The term Mild Cognitive Impairment, or MCI, is increasingly being used to describe a syndrome of memory impairment that does NOT significantly impact daily activities and is not accompanied by declines in overall cognitive function.
Researchers have found that between 6 and 25 percent of people with MCI progress on to Alzheimer’s, which has raised questions about whether MCI might represent some kind of “transitional stage” between normal aging and dementia. Many experts currently believe that MCI, as well as age-related memory loss, may always be an early form of Alzheimer’s, and progression to symptomatic Alzheimer’s disease may be only a matter of time.
However, in some people, the progression may be very slow, so the person may die of other causes before displaying the full spectrum of Alzheimer’s symptoms. MCI is recognized as a clinical condition that requires ongoing assessment and possibly treatment to delay its progression.
There is no proven treatment or therapy for mild cognitive impairment.
Two drugs used to treat Alzheimer’s disease have been assessed for their ability to treat MCI or prevent progression to full Alzheimer’s disease. Rivastigmine failed to stop or slow progression to Alzheimer’s disease or to improve cognitive function for individuals with mild cognitive impairment, and donepezil showed only minor, short-term benefits and was associated with significant side effects.
In a two-year randomized trial of 168 people with MCI given either high-dose vitamins or placebo, vitamins cut the rate of brain shrinkage by up to half. The vitamins were the three B vitamins folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12, which inhibit production of the amino acid homocysteine. High blood levels of homocysteine are associated with increased risk of cognitive decline, dementia, and cardiovascular disease.
Non-pharmacological experimental treatments include transcranial magnetic stimulation and transcranial direct current stimulation.
Research into mild cognitive impairment is ongoing.