Guest Post by Kathleen Houseweart: Demystifying mild cognitive impairment

Posted on December 30, 2010 by Guest Blogger

This guest post is written by Kathleen Houseweart, manager of geriatric services and coordinator of the Memory Disorder Clinic at Sarasota Memorial Health Care System.

Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is a term that describes cognitive (thinking) problems that are more than is expected for normal aging but less than what is required for a diagnosis of dementia.

Individuals with MCI may have impairment in memory – but not in another areas of cognition, or they may have mild, measurable loss in multiple areas of brain function – but no impairment in any single area.

In most cases, individuals with MCI function fairly independently and do not require a caregiver – though they may need support in certain activities. Early studies suggested approximately half of MCI patients will have dementia within five years.

So what should you do if you are diagnosed with MCI?

First, don’t panic. Many people diagnosed with MCI do not decline noticeably in the short term and most people diagnosed with MCI live independently. The goal is to address those factors that can contribute to cognitive decline, and to be prepared if things do get worse.

Vascular disease is one of the most common contributing factors in MCI.  It is important to do what you can to reduce vascular risk.  Manage blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes (if you have it), eat right and exercise. If you smoke, work on finding a way to stop.

Remember - what is good for your heart is good for the brain.

Review your medications. Many prescription and over the counter medications have mild effects on thinking. If you have MCI, these mild changes can be very noticeable in everyday activities.  Talk to your doctor about your medications, and take only what you need.  Don’t rush to take Alzheimer’s medication – as studies have found that these have little effect on delaying the progress of diseases that affect memory.

Get prepared.  Review financial and legal documents that pertain to long-term care planning - such as Durable Powers of Attorney, Health Care Surrogate, and Living Will etc.

Get good advice – consult an elder law attorney if needed. Talk to family about how you would want things to go if symptoms get worse. Become aware of the resources in your community BEFORE you need them, so that you can be prepared if things change.

Most older adults I speak with understand that they don’t need their brain forever – the goal is to do everything possible to make your brain last as long as you need it. The best way to do this is to live a healthy lifestyle.  Stay physically and mentally active in things you enjoy, be willing to accept help with the activities that become difficult.  An MCI diagnosis may require some adjustment – but need not be the end of a happy, independent life.

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