I remember Mom’s huge sigh of relief in 2004 when she finished a battery of tests to determine what was going on with her mind. The clinical neuropsychologist who administered the assessments told Mom that she didn’t have Alzheimer’s disease; instead, her memory loss was mild cognitive impairment (MCI). After the pronouncement, our family didn’t explore that term too much further and worry about where MCI would lead.
Yet we – and others who have received this diagnosis – should take note since the U.S. National Institutes of Health defines mild cognitive impairment as “the stage between normal forgetfulness due to aging and the development of dementia.” And two preliminary studies that were recently presented at the Alzheimer’s Association’s International Alzheimer’s Conference indicate that MCI in itself is a very serious condition.
The first study from Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine followed 733 people over the age of 70 for an average of five years (but some were followed for 16 years). The participants had at least one annual follow-up visit during the study’s span and also were tested for the APO-e4 gene, which has been found to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. When the study started, 24 participants had dementia, 76 percent had amnestic memory MCI and 65 had nonamnestic MCI (which, according to the University of California Davis’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, means that “memory problems are not as predominant, but include general impairments of cognition, such as impairments in language, visuospatial awareness and attention”).
The researchers found that participants who had dementia were three times more likely to die during the study than those whose cognitive abilities were intact. Furthermore, study participants who had been diagnosed amnestic MCI were two times more likely to die than the participants who did not any cognitive impairment. And interestingly, participants who had nonamnestic MCI were not at a higher risk for mortality.
The other study out of Oregon Health and Science University involved 148 participants who were, on average, 84 years of age. Twenty-eight of these participants had been diagnosed as having MCI. The researchers used motion sensor technology to track the participants’ activity over a three-year period.
During the first month of the study, there was no difference between participants who had MCI and those who were not cognitively impaired; they both spent on average 4.5 hours a day away from home. However, as the study progressed, participants with MCI had a significantly greater decline in time spent away from home. During the last month of the study, participants who did not have MCI were away from home 3.8 hours a day while participants with MCI only left home for 2.4 hours a day on average.
Based on what I saw with my mother, the results from these studies don’t surprise me. First of all, I watched Mom struggle with remembering what medications she had taken and when she needed to take different doses. She wouldn’t let Dad manage her medications and didn’t develop a reminder system that worked for her. Instead, her medication miscues affected not only her mild cognitive impairment, but also her chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Thus, her lung function continued to decrease causing her to make many trips to the emergency room. We also saw Mom become increasingly isolated as she quit going out of the house. I encouraged her to have lunch with her friends, but she never did it.
With that said, I believe these studies are important to help physicians and family members understand the seriousness of MCI. “These studies suggest that MCI, which is too often thought of as ‘only a little memory loss,’ is a serious condition that demands heightened physician and family member observation, personalized care, and additional research,” stated a press release from the Alzheimer’s Association’s International Conference.
Sources for This Sharepost:
Alzheimer’s Association. (2012). New research links mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to increased isolation and risk of death.
PubMed Health. (2011). Alzheimer’s disease. U.S. National Library of Medicine.
University of California Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. (N.D.) Mild cognitive impairment.
Published On: July 30, 2012