Does Mild Cognitive Impairment Mean Dementia Later On?

1 answer | Last updated: Oct 21, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

If you are diagnosed with having mild cognitive impairment does that mean that you will develop Alzheimer's?

Expert Answers

Dennis Fortier, MA, MBA, is the president and CEO of Medical Care Corporation, a neuroinformatics company that develops assessment technologies, enabling physicians to objectively evaluate memory and other cognitive functions in their patients. Fortier also authors the widely followed Brain Today blog, writing about advances in brain health, memory loss, and Alzheimer's disease.

The most important thing to remember about Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is that it is a "symptom" and not a "disease". It merely means that your ability to remember, or to use sound judgment, or to think in general, has been subtly affected by some medical condition. With this perspective, your question becomes rather straight forward.

Many medical conditions can produce the symptom MCI including, but not limited to, thyroid disease, depression, Alzheimer's, stroke, anxiety, diabetes, and vitamin deficiency. Whatever the cause, it should be diagnosed in a timely manner and treated or controlled to the best extent possible.

When MCI is caused by anything other than the brain changes we generally associate with Alzheimer's, then there is no sound basis to conclude that Alzheimer's will inevitably follow.

Having stated that "not all MCI is caused by Alzheimer's disease", it is important to note that "all Alzheimer's disease does pass through an MCI stage in the early years of the disease". This is important because there is growing evidence that the MCI stage of Alzheimer's might represent the opportunity for the most effective treatment.