Caring Currents

A "Pre-Dementia" Epidemic?

Last updated: Jul 30, 2008

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Worried about a loved one's (or your own) memory slips -- but not that worried, considering he can still manage to drive, make everyday decisions, and carry on a normal conversation?

Maybe you should worry after all. Or at least keep a really watchful eye.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a relatively recently-identified category of cognitive trouble that falls between normal memory loss and Alzheimer's disease. Mayo Clinic scientists have just issued the first estimate of its prevalence -- nearly one million new cases a year in people over 70, more than double previous predictions. They had expected an increase of MCI cases of maybe 1 to 2 percent a year. Instead MCI is growing by 5 percent, and by 7 percent a year in people over 80.

That's on top of the 5 million people who already have Alzheimer's. And It's troubling because people with MCI are much more likely to develop Alzheimer's over time. (Although it's important to note that not every case of MCI becomes Alzheimer's.) Men develop MCI more often than women.

So what can you do if you're concerned?

  • Learn more about mild cognitive impairment. If you've never heard of it before, you're not alone; it was first identified only a decade ago.
  • Test your understanding of the differences between normal memory loss and dementia.
  • Encourage your parent to have a professional assessment. There's no cure for MCI, but you can establish a baseline by which to compare future changes. That can be critical in diagnosing and treating later dementia, should it develop.
  • Watch for red flags. According to MCI pioneering researcher Dr. Ron Peterson at Mayo, these include forgetting appointments, forgetting things one tried to remember, and forgetting things one used to remember effortlessly.

Image by Flickr user ebbdog, used under the Creative Commons attribution license.