As we gather around the family this holiday season, we may begin to notice subtle changes in our older loved one’s behavior.
Mixing up names and becoming forgetful can be considered part of the natural aging process, but when does it cross a line into something more serious, such as mild cognitive impairment?
In this article, we’re going to discuss mild cognitive impairment, which is usually the first indicator of memory loss in seniors.
If you believe your loved one may be suffering from a cognitive disorder, then continue reading to learn more about how you can help your loved one and reduce its effects.
How do you classify mild cognitive impairment?
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is considered a transitional stage between the natural effects of aging and more severe loss of cognitive abilities such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Becoming forgetful here and there can be considered part of natural aging, but mild cognitive impairment usually refers to more advanced symptoms of memory loss and cognitive dysfunction such as:
- Forgetting things more often, such as important dates or paying bills
- A lack of focus when talking with friends and family
- Increased impulsivity
- Becoming more overwhelmed and quicker to anger or frustration
- Constantly having words “on the tip of the tongue”
It’s important to know that not all seniors who develop mild cognitive decline will lead to dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Seniors who are aged 65+ have about a 10%-20% chance of developing Alzheimer’s over a one-year period.
It may even be possible to reverse or slow down the effects of mild cognitive impairment for your loved one and improve cognitive function.
What are the 3 stages of cognitive impairment?
Mild cognitive impairment can be considered a progressive condition, however, it doesn’t always progress to dementia or Alzheimer’s. Although, many seniors who have developed Alzheimer’s or dementia have experienced different levels of cognitive impairment during the early stages of their condition.
Subjective cognitive impairment
Subjective cognitive impairment (SCI) is the first stage of cognitive decline in aging seniors. It’s often in this stage that older adults begin to experience a mild decline in their cognitive functions, but it doesn’t impact daily living at all.
Many aging adults simply consider this stage to be part of the normal aging process, not becoming too concerned with being a bit more forgetful at times.
Older adults with subjective cognitive impairment don’t experience any difficulties with completing their daily activities of living.
Mild cognitive impairment
Mild cognitive impairment is not considered part of the normal aging process, and is an indicator of more serious neurocognitive disorders, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, although it doesn’t always develop into more serious conditions.
MCI is usually the first stage when people start to notice something is off with their loved one’s behavior. Increased forgetfulness is common, which can result in missed bills, becoming confused or lost when driving, and forgetting how to perform regular routines.
Friends and family members may notice an increased decline in their loved one’s language abilities, reasoning, or judgment, or even notice personality changes that may be concerning.
Many older adults can still function by themselves living with mild cognitive impairment, but with a little bit more difficulty. You can help your loved one with mild cognitive decline by setting up reminders and systems to help them keep track of their daily activities.
Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease
Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are considered the last and most severe cognitive impairments.
Seniors living with dementia won’t be able to drive themselves to appointments, and will need more assistance and care to complete their basic daily activities of living, such as dressing, using the bathroom, and walking.
Personality changes will become more noticeable and walking and swallowing will also be affected.
Adults in the later stages of dementia will depend on assistance to help them perform most of their basic daily activities of living.
What are the causes and risk factors for mild cognitive decline?
The causes of mild cognitive impairment in seniors are not fully understood in the medical community. There isn’t one singular cause or risk factor that will necessarily lead to mild cognitive decline.
Currently, research is underway studying the effects of air pollution, diet, and genetics in explaining why some seniors are more prone to mild cognitive impairment.
Many researchers believe mild cognitive impairment is brought about by abnormal clumping of protein in the brain, such as plaques, tangles, and the presence of Lewy bodies.
These are the same proteins that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease.
Risk factors for developing mild cognitive impairment include:
- High blood pressure
- Depression and anxiety
- Sedentary lifestyle
- High cholesterol
- Isolation and boredom
How quickly does mild cognitive impairment progress?
About 15% to 20% of people over the age of 65 have mild cognitive impairment or exhibit many symptoms of mild cognitive decline.
Of people who are 65 and older, roughly 7.5% will develop dementia within the first year, 15% will develop dementia in the second year, and 20% will develop dementia by the third year.
In another study, about 30% of people with mild cognitive impairment will develop dementia within five years.
How to get tested for mild cognitive impairment
There is no singular test to diagnose mild cognitive impairment. If you’re concerned about your loved one’s symptoms of memory loss, take them to a doctor who can perform a variety of tests, which can include the following.
The doctor will test and evaluate your loved one’s reflexes and nervous system to make sure there is no dysfunction between their brain and nervous system. This can include a walking gait assessment, testing their reflexes, and tracking eye movement.
Blood tests can be taken to find the root cause of your loved one’s memory loss to rule out physical problems or side effects taken from new medications.
CT scans and MRIs may be taken to check for tumors, strokes, or brain bleeding that may be causing your loved one’s change in mood, language, and personality.
The doctor may perform a mental test, which is about 10 minutes long and involves asking your loved one questions to test their awareness and memory.
What are the treatment options to slow down mild cognitive impairment?
While there are new medications for helping people with dementia and Alzheimer’s, there currently is no medication that treats mild cognitive impairment.
The best way to slow down mild cognitive impairment is to reduce further risk factors that can lead to more severe memory loss.
Eating healthier, managing blood pressure, and exercising are the best ways to slow down or reverse mild cognitive decline in adults. Increased social interactions and mental activity are also necessary to keep the brain sharp and happy.
Engaging in group activities, life enrichment activities, dining with friends, going through physical rehabilitation, and participating in memory care groups can help support older adults with varying cognitive disorders.
The Kensington Sierra Madre — enhanced care for those with mild cognitive impairment
At The Kensington Sierra Madre, Our Promise is to love and care for your loved one as we would our own.
If your loved one has begun exhibiting symptoms of mild cognitive impairment or worsening memory loss, please contact us to learn more about our memory care community.
Our compassionate care team is committed to providing quality care, so that as residents’ conditions develop, they can safely age in place.