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  • Cameron Oglesby

Mild cognitive impairment needn’t be a one-way street to dementia

Last month, I wrote that “Many symptoms of dementia can look like the results of natural aging.” A newly released study shows that some results of natural aging – mild cognitive impairment, specifically – can look like early symptoms of dementia.

But looking like early dementia isn’t the same as actually being on a one-way street to dementia, the study found. This is because, unlike many previous studies, it was conducted with a much more heterogeneous group of subjects.

“Most prior studies are conducted among only non-Hispanic White older adults who seek help from a doctor who specializes in memory disorders,” the study’s lead author, Columbia University neuropsychology professor Jennifer Manly, explained.

This study, in contrast, followed some 2,900+ racially and ethnically diverse Americans, average age in the mid 70s.

Just as the mix of participants differed, so did the findings.

They showed that in nearly half the cases, mild cognitive impairment (MCI) could reverse itself.

During the six-year research period, 752 participants reported problems with memory or thinking, had problems with two or fewer daily activities (e.g., shopping or handling medications), tested positive for and were diagnosed with MCI.

When 480 of them underwent follow-up assessments two years later, almost half – 48% – tested “cognitively normal.” Another 30% still had MCI but had not developed dementia. And only 13% had dementia.

Researchers also found that participants who had more years of education, had higher income, and took part in more leisure activities like reading, visiting friends, and going for walks were less likely to develop MCI.

Because the study focused on a mixed group of participants, it “just confirms that people with mild cognitive impairment are a heterogeneous group,” said Dr. Zaldy Tan, director of Cedars-Sinai hospital’s Memory and Aging Program in Los Angeles. “[S]ome people are in fact on the Alzheimer’s or dementia path, and some people are having mild cognitive impairment because of other things that are potentially reversible,” he added.

It also confirms something that we at Senior Insights never forget: that all people – seniors included – are individuals, each with their own individual needs, wants, and outlooks. So we never rely on stereotypes or surface appearances. That’s why our thorough three-part needs assessment covers everything from physical, psychological and mental status to mobility issues, nutritional needs and legal wishes. And why it involves not only clients, but also their caregivers and families.

What we learn becomes the foundation for custom-designing a holistic, coordinated care plan.

Whether for cognitive issues or natural aging, please contact us to see the difference this approach can make.

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