Overcoming Mild Cognitive Impairment: Treatment Options and Strategies

Overcoming Mild Cognitive Impairment: Treatment Options and Strategies

Overcoming Mild Cognitive Impairment: Treatment Options and Strategies

As we age, it’s common to experience some cognitive changes. But how do you know if these changes are normal or if they could be a sign of something more serious? Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is a condition that often falls in between normal aging and dementia. The Memory Health Clinic programs provides treatment options and strategies crucial for both individuals experiencing cognitive decline and their loved ones. Here’s what we wished most people knew about Mild Cognitive Impairment, the treatment options and strategies.
In this article you'll learn:
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    By gaining a deeper understanding of MCI, individuals and their families can take proactive steps towards maintaining cognitive health and improving their quality of life.

    How To Help Someone Living With Mild Cognitive Impairment- Simplified

    MCI treatment aims to help people with minor memory or thinking issues, often in older age. It’s not a normal part of aging.

    Treatment includes lifestyle changes like staying mentally and physically active, a healthy diet, and managing other health conditions.

    Regular health check-ups with a doctor are crucial and connecting with specialised therapies are vital.

    While MCI can be an early stage of dementia, not everyone with MCI develops dementia. So, early detection and a healthy lifestyle can make a big difference.

    Living with Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Snapshot

    Cognitive impairment encompasses conditions that affect thinking, memory, learning, concentration, and decision-making.

    It ranges from mild to severe, with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) being a stage between age-related memory decline and dementia.

    MCI can include changes with:

    • Memory, language, and judgment issues but for most these are mild changes. Ordinarily, people are living independently.

    When we welcome individuals into our memory health clinic, we often witness the subtle but significant influence of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) on their daily lives. One area where this impact becomes especially apparent is when we delve into the world of MCI and driving. Through careful clinical observation, we’ve observed how MCI can quietly erode one’s confidence and competence behind the wheel, making once-familiar journeys a source of uncertainty and concern.

    It’s a vivid testament to the importance of addressing MCI’s effects on complex tasks, ensuring the safety and independence of those we serve.

    So you could say that MCI is impacting the fullness and likely quality of life that people experience.

    What does stand out is when we ask people “Against your lifetime best, how are your thinking and memory skills?

    That’s where we’ll see a person consider their current “mental performance” against how they believe they have performed at their best. No doubt this is part of the assessment and therapy planning process.

    What Are The Common Symptoms of Mild Cognitive Impairment

    MCI symptoms may include these common changes to a person’s cognitive abilities:

    1. Thinking skills changes: Trouble remembering, learning, concentrating,
    2. Vision or more specifically, visual perception problems,
    3. Difficulty speaking ” finding those familiar words”,
    4. Reasoning and judgment challenges, and
    5. Struggles with complex planning and daily tasks. What I want to emphasise here, its for the complex tasks, like driving or complex recipes. This is where the errors or difficulties are likely to be observed first.

    This is not an exhaustive list, but, you’d likely appreciate that its changes in one’s abilities to meet everyday life activities that is noticeable. When a person comes to the clinic we’ll like note these changes as well as performance differences on standardised memory assessments.

    You’d appreciate that as we get older, we’re less like to do “complex mentally demanding tasks” and tend to pursue familiar or similar tasks, routes or routines. So, it’s likely a person’s experience of MCI may not be seen until a new, novel tasks is presented to them.

    MCI diagnosis relies on a doctor’s judgment, and additional tests may be done to identify underlying causes, such as Alzheimer’s disease, infections, medication interactions or nutritional deficiencies.

    We’ve explored previously the short term or temporary memory loss issues that can impact a person’s memory health as well as brain fog after surgery.

    Is Mild Cognitive Impairment Dementia?

    Of course, let’s break it down in simpler terms:

    Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is when someone has small issues with their thinking or memory, but these problems aren’t serious enough to mess up their daily life. It’s like a middle ground between normal thinking and full-blown dementia. People with MCI can still do most of their regular tasks just fine.

    Dementia, on the other hand, is more serious. It can bring significant memory loss, confusion, personality changes, and make it tough to do everyday stuff. It messes with several parts of thinking, and it really affects how someone functions.

    So, in a nutshell, MCI and dementia are not the same. MCI is like a mild hiccup in thinking, while dementia is like a big storm.

    But here’s the twist: not everyone with MCI ends up with dementia. The progression to dementia is observed in only about 10 to 15 percent of folks with MCI each year, including neurodegenerative disease of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.

    Yes, there is an elevated risk where a person is observed to be 6x at greater risk of progressing to dementia, compared to a person who doesn’t have MCI.

    Remember, MCI is the middle ground, like a canary in the coal mine saying ” Hey !!Warning!! – Take care of your cognitive fitness”, and dementia is the more serious stuff, but they’re not identical twins. 

    What’s The Average Age For Mild Cognitive Impairment?

    Certainly, let’s make this information more understandable:

    Mild Cognitive Impairment, or MCI, is something that can affect people as they get older. Here’s the scoop:

    • About 8% of folks between the ages of 65 and 69 may have MCI.
    • When you’re between 75 and 79 years old, that number goes up to around 15%.
    • For those aged 80 to 84, it’s about 25%.
    • And if you’re 85 or older, there’s a higher chance – around 37% – of having MCI.

    But here’s the thing, MCI isn’t just for older adults. It can also happen to younger folks, although it’s less common. On average, it seems that MCI shows up at around 70 years old for most people.

    However, the exact age when MCI appears can vary. It might depend on things like how much education you’ve had or if your lifestyle and health factors are increasing your risk.

    Is Age A Cause of Mild Cognitive Impairment?

    Age is a primary risk factor (note it’s not a cause) for cognitive impairment, with other risk factors including family history, physical inactivity, and conditions like Parkinson’s disease, heart disease, stroke, brain injury, brain cancers, substance abuse, toxins, and diabetes (metabolic disorder).

    Prevention of MCI is possible and in some case reversible, where research suggests that maintaining:

    • An active lifestyle, healthy diet, and managing blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels may help reduce the risk.

    Where as, dementia on the other hand, is not reversible.

    In short, MCI isn’t a normal aging and isn’t part of the course of getting older. If you or someone you know is experiencing changes in their thinking skills, it’s important to see a doctor to figure out what’s going on. Don’t just chalk it up to ageing; it could be something else.

    What Are Non Pharmacological Treatment Options for Mild Cognitive Impairment?

    A review of the literature collectively suggest that non-pharmacological interventions can be effective in improving cognitive function and quality of life in individuals with MCI. Here’s a summary of our readings

    • Horr and associates (2015) highlighted the potential benefits of behavioral interventions, exercise, and diet in reducing cognitive deficits and behavioral symptoms associated with MCI.
    • Wang et al (2020) as well as Hu and colleagues (2022) further supported the positive impact of cognitive training, physical exercise, and multi-model programs on the quality of life in individuals with MCI.
    •  In their encompassing paper, Piggin and Patterson(2023), continue to note the variety and inconsistent quality of research. They did however highlight an emerging trend in the evidence, that is “cognitive stimulation and combined mind-body programmes to improve neurocognitive function, yet there is still no clear picture regarding the efficacy of rehabilitation, cognitive training, or mindfulness-based approaches. Increasingly, it is multi-component interventions that are currently associated with more positive outcomes for cognitive health and wellbeing.”
    • Like most fields there is always the need for further research. Couch(2022) emphasises the need to determine the most effective and acceptable non-pharmacological interventions for MCI.

    To this last point, our opinion is that there needs to be greater granularity on treatment matched to phenotypes. This means, treatment matched to specific symptoms (cognitive symptoms) as well as underlying medical conditions such as metabolic disorders. Its this area of observing symptoms and underlying contributing health changes that is often neglected in well meaning “brain training” programs.

    Our practice applies cognitive therapy programs, what Fu and colleagues refer to as “multi-modal programs”.

    Overall, non-pharmacological treatments show promise in addressing cognitive and behavioural symptoms of MCI, and yes, more rigorous studies are necessary to establish their efficacy and identify optimal intervention types.

    Cognitive Therapy for Mild Cognitive Impairment

    Ok, we’ve established that Mild Cognitive Impairment is a condition that causes cognitive changes, such as memory problems, that are noticeable but do not significantly impact daily activities. While there’s no standard treatment or approved medication for MCI,  there are several cognitive therapies and lifestyle changes that may help people:

    • Cognitive training: Memory training and other cognitive exercises may help improve cognitive function in people with MCI. You can expect at the clinic the use of digital “online” platforms that offers personalised cognitive exercises to individuals with MCI.

    Other Lifestyle Factors Important For People Living With Mild Cognitive Impairment

    • Physical exercise: Regular exercise, especially aerobic exercise, has known benefits for heart health and may also help prevent or slow cognitive decline. The 6 and 12 week Cognitive Fitness Programs, for example, offers a combination of physical exercise and cognitive therapy.
    • Social activities and engagement: Being social may help preserve mental function and slow mental decline. Maintaining social connections and participating in activities with others can provide cognitive stimulation and emotional support for individuals with MCI.
    • Healthy diet: While the impact of diet on cognitive decline is still uncertain, a healthy diet that includes fish, vegetables, and black and green teas may be beneficial for overall brain health. Vitamin deficiencies are associated with MCI so in some cases supplements, such as lipoic acid, vitamin E, omega 3s,  curcumin, and ensuring sufficient Vitamin Bs have been suggested to help address MCI, but more research is needed in this area.
    • Sleep: Poor sleep quality and sleep disturbances have been linked to an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia in older adults. Sustained sleep loss or sleep disturbance can have an attenuating impact on a person’s cognitive performance. On the other hand, good sleep patterns help consolidate memories and improve cognitive function, including attention, concentration, and problem-solving.

    While these therapies and lifestyle changes may not cure MCI, they can help individuals maintain their cognitive function, improve their quality of life, and potentially slow down the progression of the condition.

    What Are Memory Aids and Strategies for People Living with Mild Cognitive Impairment

    Memory aids and strategies can be helpful for people living with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) to compensate for decreased memory function. Here are some common memory aids and strategies for people with MCI:

    Memory aids:

    • Calendar or diary: A calendar or diary can help individuals keep track of appointments, events, and tasks
    • Digital calendar alarm day clock: This type of clock displays the day and month in a non-abbreviated format and can be programmed with alarms for reminders
    • Shopping list: A shopping list can help individuals remember what items they need to purchase
    • Contact numbers: Keeping a list of important phone numbers can help individuals remember who to call in case of an emergency

    Memory strategies:

    • Daily planners: Using a daily planner can help individuals keep track of tasks and appointments
    • Note-taking systems: Writing down important information can help individuals remember it later
    • Repetition: Repeating important information can help individuals remember it better
    • Association: Associating new information with something familiar can help individuals remember it better
    • Chunking: Breaking down information into smaller chunks can make it easier to remember

    It is important to note that memory aids and strategies are not meant to treat memory loss but to aid in compensating for it. Additionally, the effectiveness of memory aids and strategies may vary depending on the individual. It is recommended to work with a healthcare professional or occupational therapist, much like our service,  to determine the most appropriate memory aids and strategies for each individual with MCI.

    Brisbane Services To Help With Mild Cognitive Impairment Memory Loss Challenges

    Looking for personalised guidance to improve your memory?

    Contact Occupational Therapy Brisbane today and let our experts help you unlock your memory potential. The Memory Health Clinic services are focused on helping you overcome memory changes with practical and supportive strategies.

    Take the first step towards a sharper memory and a brighter future. Call 1300 783 200, today to speak with our team and see if we can be of help.


    Couch, E. (2022). Non-pharmacological treatments may improve cognition in mild cognitive impairment. Evidence Based Journals, 26, 65 – 65.

    Wang, Y., Jia, R., Liang, J., Li, J., Qian, S., Li, J., & Xu, Y. (2020). The effects of Non-pharmacological therapies for people with Mild Cognitive Impairment. A Bayesian Network Meta-analysis Non-pharmacological Therapies for people with MCI. International journal of geriatric psychiatry.

    Hu, M., Hu, H., Shao, Z., Gao, Y., Zeng, X., Shu, X., Huang, J., Shen, S., Wu, I.X., Xiao, L.D., & Feng, H. (2022). Effectiveness and acceptability of non-pharmacological interventions in people with mild cognitive impairment: Overview of systematic reviews and network meta-analysis. Journal of affective disorders.

    Horr, T., Messinger-Rapport, B., & Pillai, J.A. (2015). Systematic review of strengths and limitations of Randomized Controlled Trials for non-pharmacological interventions in mild cognitive impairment: Focus on Alzheimer’s disease. The journal of nutrition, health & aging, 19, 141-153.

    Piggin, L.H., & Patterson, C.W. (2023). Evidence-based interventions for people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI): Where are we now? FPOP Bulletin: Psychology of Older People. 

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