Study: Mild Cognitive Impairment Increases Person's Risk of Death

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Mild cognitive impairment is a relatively new term that covers mild memory impairment or general forgetfulness that often used to be dismissed as “senior moments.”  These deficits may remain stable for years, unlike what happens in Alzheimer’s disease where there is a gradual decline. The diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment is based on whether a person can successfully perform their daily activities without more assistance from others than was previously needed.

    While we often think of mild cognitive impairment as being just memory, there are actually three very different types. These types are:

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    • Amnestic mild cognitive impairment, in which memory loss is apparent, but other aspects of cognitive function (such as hygiene and managing daily affairs) are within normal limits.
    • Multi-domain mild cognitive impairment, in which there is slight memory impairment as well as subtle-to-mild issues among other areas such as language, reasoning/judgment and visual perceptual skills.
    • Single non-memory domain mild cognitive impairment, which happens when a person has cognitive impairment in an area other than memory.

    While the diagnosis does include the word “mild,” that doesn’t mean that having this condition isn’t serious. Let me point you to new research out of the Mayo Clinic that looked at mild cognitive impairment and mortality.

    This study involved 2154 people who were between the ages of 70 and 89.  Of those, 862 participants were suffering cognitive decline while the others were not suffering any mental impairment. The researchers assessed participants’ thinking abilities at the beginning of the study and then reassessed cognitive function every 15 months. Over the six-year span of the study, 331 participants who had mild cognitive impairment and 224 participants who had normal cognitive function died.  Thus, participants who had mild cognitive impairment had an 80-percent increased risk of dying over the six-year period of the study than those who didn’t have this impairment.

    The researchers’ analysis considered the type of mild cognitive impairment.  Participants who had mild cognitive impairment without memory loss had more than twice the death rate during the six-year period than participants who did not have any mild cognitive impairment. In comparison, people who had mild cognitive impairment with memory loss had a 68-percent increased risk of dying during the study than people who didn’t have any mild cognitive impairment.

    Some experts hypothesize that underlying chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes and chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and obesity contribute to both mental decline as well as the higher risk of death.

    This hypothesis makes sense. In addition, I’d suggest that mild cognitive impairment can alter a person’s self-care regimen. I base this suggestion on my mother, who started having cognitive issues in 2002 and was formally diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment in 2004 and Alzheimer’s disease in 2005. She also had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which had originally been diagnosed in the late-1990s and had resulted in severe deterioration of her lung capacity. As her cognitive issues increasingly emerged, Mom began to mismedicate herself, often forgetting that she had taken medication and then doubling up on a dosage, or not taking a medication at all. This led to many trips to the emergency room and a lot of frustration – and quite a few fights – between my parents since my proud mother would not let Dad manage her medications.

  • Therefore, I’d suggest that the decline in health that the Mayo Clinic study reports is not only because of mild cognitive impairment and other health conditions, but also because of the overlap between the two that results in additional challenges of managing the necessary parts of one’s life (such as properly taking medications).

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

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    American Academy of Neurology. (2014).  Study examines risk of early death for people with mild cognitive impairment.


    MedlinePlus. (2014). Seniors who suffer mental decline may face earlier death: Study.

    University of California, San Francisco Memory and Aging Center. (ND). Mild cognitive impairment.

    Washington Regional Memory Clinic. (ND). Mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

Published On: April 29, 2014