Navigating Mild Cognitive Decline
According to Alzheimer’s Disease International, someone in the world develops dementia approximately every three seconds. By the year 2030, there will be an estimated 78 million people in the world living with dementia, with that number expected to double every twenty years thereafter. With statistics like that, you may find yourself wondering what steps you can take to increase your odds of living a long life of good cognitive health.
First things first, it’s important to understand that despite what many people seem to think, dementia is not a normal part of aging and should not be accepted or expected as such. People often tend to associate aging with declining cognitive abilities, and while it is true that there is some degree of decline that is inevitable with aging, any cognitive decline that seriously impacts your daily functioning and quality of life is not a sure thing, and many people can retain excellent cognitive skills well into even their nineties, or older.
There are normal types of cognitive changes that come with age, some of which are positive like a higher vocabulary, better reading comprehension, and improved verbal reasoning, and some negative changes can also be normal and not always a symptom of an underlying brain disease. For example, we’re all probably familiar with normal age-associated memory loss. Things like having trouble remembering a specific word, or forgetting someone’s name or where you set down your car keys are all to be expected to some degree. For individuals who begin to notice these small changes, it’s not uncommon for them to be more concerned about it than any of their family members, who may not even be noticing anything wrong or different. In contrast, when someone begins to undergo abnormal cognitive decline, even while in the early stages, symptoms and changes begin to emerge that anyone can see.
Mild cognitive impairment is a distinct clinical stage of cognitive decline that can indicate the presence of an underlying condition that affects the brain. Individuals with it may be able to function normally and fully in everyday life, even though the damage to their brain on the cellular level has already begun. In some cases it can take as long as twenty years before any real symptoms start appearing.
Mild cognitive impairment is characterized primarily by memory problems, and the risk of progression to dementia is thought to be particularly high. Neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, vascular diseases, and Lewy body disease are examples of conditions that can cause MCI. Other causes are reversible, like B1 or B12 vitamin deficiencies, infections, and some medications. Therefore, suffering from MCI is not always a precursor to dementia.
While MCI can be a predictor of dementia, it can also remain stable for years, and even improve in some cases. A prognosis is possible only after a complete diagnosis and education about the disease, which allows for an effective treatment plan that will optimize quality of life, and ideally even slow the progression of it. This is why it is always important to receive an early and specific diagnosis.