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Is Mild Cognitive Impairment Early Dementia?

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

Everyone forgets things here and there. If you’re having more memory lapses than usual, you may worry that you could have Dementia. You may not know that another possibility is mild cognitive impairment: It’s the term used to describe someone whose memory or reasoning skills have diminished somewhat but whose changes aren’t as dramatic as Dementia.

“There’s a measurable decline in cognition that’s more than we’d expect based upon age and education,” says Daniel L. Murman, MD, director of the behavioral neurology division in the department of neurological sciences at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, “[but] it’s not severe enough to impact the ability to perform everyday activities such as driving, finances, shopping, cooking.”

Someone with mild cognitive impairment may care for themselves and live independently.

Outcomes of mild cognitive impairment

As time passes, some people with mild cognitive impairment experience greater cognitive changes and are diagnosed with Dementia, a syndrome, caused by any number of underlying diseases and disorders.

Others remain steady, never progressing beyond mild cognitive impairment, yet never improving.

Still, others only experience mild cognitive impairment temporarily; their cognition eventually returns to normal.

Because there are a variety of outcomes, people who are diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment shouldn’t assume that Dementia is inevitable.

“If you took 100 people with a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment – especially those that have memory loss as part of their cognitive changes – about 10 to 15 percent per year do show progression,” Murman says. “That means that 85 to 90 percent don’t.”

Causes of reversible mild cognitive impairment

Certain conditions – including vitamin deficiency, underactive thyroid, sleep apnea, depression and anxiety – may cause mild cognitive impairment. Getting diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment sooner, rather than later, may help a doctor discover and treat an underlying condition, leading to a positive outcome.

“Symptoms may either stabilize or improve to the point that they’re no longer diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment,” Murman says.

Ways to prevent mild cognitive impairment

Simple lifestyle changes may help you reduce your risk of mild cognitive impairment. Try these brain-healthy strategies:

  • Eat a healthy diet.

  • Stay physically active.

  • Engage in problem-solving and other cognitively challenging activities.

  • Get the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep.

  • Manage high blood pressure with medication as prescribed.

  • Limit your alcohol intake.

  • Take steps to lower your stress levels.

Contributor: Lisa Fields is a full-time freelance writer who specializes in health, psychology, sleep, nutrition, and fitness. Her work has been published by Reader’s Digest, WebMD, Women’s Health, Good Housekeeping, Self, and many other publications. Learn more about Lisa at

The opinions expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily the opinions of the Dementia Society, Inc. We do not endorse nor guarantee products, comments, suggestions, links, or other forms of the content contained within blog posts that have been provided to us with permission, paid or otherwise. Dementia Society does not provide medical advice. Please consult your doctor.

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