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Mild Cognitive Impairment Not a Normal Part of Aging

Madison, Wisconsin - We used to think slight memory and thinking problems were just "part of aging."


But about 10 years ago, experts in the field of dementia identified a phase between cognitive health and dementia. "Mild cognitive impairment" (MCI) has specific criteria for diagnosis, but most people don't know what that diagnostic label means.


The memory and thinking problems associated with MCI are not a normal part of aging. Recognizing the cognitive changes could be the key to early detection and intervention for those at risk of developing Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia, say researchers and clinicians at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH) Alzheimer's Disease Research Center (ADRC).


"One of the main missions of the ADRC is to find diagnostic tools, and subsequently develop early interventions and treatments for MCI and Alzheimer's disease," says Dr. Carey Gleason, assistant professor of medicine at the School of Medicine and Public Health.


"Early intervention, especially for someone with MCI, could prevent further decline. But you can't intervene if the problem is not recognized. And frankly, very few people understand mild cognitive impairment, let alone recognize it."


MCI is a mild decline in cognitive performance, usually in memory and attention. Gleason says that while Alzheimer's disease patients have noticeable changes in their ability to manage day-to-day tasks, individuals with MCI remain relatively independent. A person who develops mild cognitive impairment may or may not progress to Alzheimer's disease.


The Wisconsin Alzheimer's Disease Research Center is looking for clues to understand why some people progress more slowly than others. Ideally, the goal is to slow the progression to full-blown dementia. Then mild cognitive impairment and even Alzheimer's disease would be recognized as chronic conditions that can be treated and managed like diabetes or heart disease. The memory problems would be an annoyance and not a tragedy, according to Gleason.


"Family members and close friends are the first to notice subtle changes in a loved one that easily could be ignored," says Gleason. "If there is evaluation and intervention at that point, they can get the support they need as well as assessment that may determine if they're likely to develop Alzheimer's disease."


Gleason adds that while there are no approved treatments for MCI, patients have access to a variety of clinical trials at the Wisconsin Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, one of 17 National Institutes of Health-certified Alzheimer's disease research centers.


Gleason also says that often the most effective intervention for mild cognitive impairment is a consistent family support system. Simple steps can be put in place to help the person with MCI avoid major problems, like those associated with mismanaging medications.


The School of Medicine and Public Health-based Wisconsin Alzheimer's Institute has a network of 40 memory clinics around the state. The memory clinics provide early diagnostic services for dementia.

Date Published: 04/05/2011

News tag(s):  researchalzheimer's disease

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Mild Cognitive Impairment Not a Normal Part of Aging

Last updated: 01/27/2015
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