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Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

Mark Spencer, 72 years old, Detroit, finds himself forgetting important things and occurrences. He has become overwhelmed in decision-making and in planning how to perform tasks and chores. Sometimes, he is disoriented in well-known surroundings. At other times, he is unable to follow a conversation and unable to reflect calmly and reasonably on a problem at hand. His close friend, Jim, and his wife, Mira, have noticed the changes. Mark experiences more discomfort than in the past, but can still lead a normal and independent life. Nevertheless, he is increasingly concerned about his mental health and has become depressed.

Mark could be experiencing the symptoms of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), a condition of cognitive decline which, although it does not affect the ability to lead an independent, self-sufficient life, is more pronounced than cognitive decline which characterizes normal aging. MCI can stabilize and remain unchanged for years. However, approximately 100f individuals with MCI will develop Alzheimer's disease. In yet other cases, MCI has been shown to improve over time. Its causes are not well understood but post-mortem scans indicate that the brains of some individuals with MCI have undergone biological changes which resemble those seen in Alzheimer's Disease, such as the formation of plaques and tangles, Lewy bodies, and loss of hippocampal volume. Studies have shown a relation between MCI and small strokes, reduced blood flow and reduced glucose usage. Conditions such as high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, lack of exercise and lack of social interaction have also been linked to MCI. The main risk factor for MCI is increasing age. A second well researched risk factor is the presence of a gene called APOE-e4. No drugs have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat MCI. Physicians and specialists may sometimes prescribe drugs used for Alzheimer's Disease.

Fortunately, research into prevention and stabilization of MCI has yielded important results. An influential article recently published in Nature describes evidence showing that physical exercise, brain training, social relationships and a healthy diet all lead to a lower risk of cognitive decline, MCI or dementia. In particular, the author discusses results from scientific brain training studies:

"Brain training: Canadian researchers used functional MRI to analyze brain activity in 15 people with MCI. After a one-week program designed to teach the participants new memory strategies, there was activation in several additional brain regions during memory tests, suggesting that intact areas of the brain were able to take over from damaged areas. The participants also scored better on the tests. Many studies of cognitive stimulation and dementia make use of computer games designed to boost mental skills. Such brain training interventions produce positive results in people with Alzheimer's disease and related conditions."[1]

It is very important to keep your brain healthy and trained to maintain its capacity and push back the effect of time as much as possible. Individuals with mild cognitive impairment seem to have a higher chance to progress toward dementia and Alzheimer's disease and it is important to take precautionary measures to keep a healthy brain.

[1] Deweerdt, S. Activity is the best medicine. Can exercise, social interaction and the Mediterranean diet really help to keep the cognitive decline of Alzheimer's disease at bay | 14 July 2011 | Vol 474| Nature | S17

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