Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is the medical name for memory problems that exceed the “normal forgetfulness of aging” but are less than associated with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. If you have received a diagnosis of MCI, you are at risk for continued significant cognitive decline. Each year about 10–15% of persons with MCI receive an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, as compared to 1–3% of all older adults.
That said, many people with MCI do not experience further decline. And some people even improve–if their memory loss was caused by something fixable like a medication reaction or untreated depression. For all these reasons, it is important to have symptoms reassessed every 6–12 months to monitor changes.
There are things you can do. While there is no medical treatment as yet for MCI, some everyday activities can help prevent or slow its progression. The goal is to increase blood flow and oxygen to your brain, and keep your mind active.
- Manage your blood pressure. Keeping blood pressure within the normal range has a profound effect on delaying memory problems.
- Practice healthy habits. Get regular aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking. Aim for eight hours of sleep. Eat a diet low in processed foods and high in fruits and vegetables. Limit alcohol. Quit smoking. Manage other conditions (e.g., diabetes, depression).
- Wear your hearing aids. A loss in hearing means a loss of stimulation to the brain. Studies now connect this loss with a decline in brain function. (Plus, some things you are “forgetting” may in fact be from conversations you didn’t fully hear.)
- Participate in social activities. Even if you don’t talk much, the stimulation of spending time with others is beneficial.
- Learn a new skill. Make your brain exercise! Try something you’ve never done. Brush your teeth with the “opposite” hand. Or have some fun: Ping-pong? Drumming?
- Engage your mind with puzzles. This is brain calisthenics. Keep your neurons firing with activities that make you think.
Memory aids. Accept that you are forgetful and support yourself for success. Make ample use of to-do lists, big calendars, and notes or alarms on your phone. Leverage the power of routines. Put your keys and glasses, purse/wallet in the same place every time. Set yourself up for environmental cueing, consciously putting things where you will see them when needed, such as leaving your morning pills by the coffee maker.
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