Mild dementia vs Mild cognitive impairment

Uncategorized May 15, 2022

We spend a lot of time talking about dementia but there are a lot of terms and diagnoses related to changes in thinking that can be very confusing. Today, I would like to talk about mild cognitive impairment. What is it? Is it the same as mild dementia? What does this diagnosis mean for you or your loved one? 


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Ok Careblazer lets get started. Let first break down the words in mild cognitive impairment. First we have mild meaning “slight” or “minor”, then cognitive which means “thinking”, and then impairment which means “loss.” If we put that all together it really means slight thinking loss or minor thinking loss. These versions may be a little easier to use when thinking about this diagnosis. 


Another term that you may hear used interchangeably with mild cognitive impairment is mild neurocognitive disorder. 


So how does one come to get a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment? In order to be diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, a person must demonstrate loss in thinking ability in at least one area of thinking. The key here is loss or change in thinking ability. There are some normal changes in thinking that happen as we age. In mild cognitive impairment, these changes are greater than what is seen in normal aging and no longer consistent with an individual's level of education. 


So, Careblazer, you may be thinking to yourself, “this sounds a lot like mild dementia or dementia.” You would be right, BUT here’s the difference, in mild cognitive impairment, there changes are, you guessed it! Mild.

So what does it mean for changes to be “mild” or “minor?” How do we define this? In the case of mild cognitive impairment, mild means that the changes in thinking do not interfere with a person's ability to complete their regular daily tasks. Whereas in dementia, even mild dementia, the changes in thinking are to the point that it begins to interfere with a person’s ability to independently complete their daily tasks. 


Essentially, mild cognitive impairment is the diagnosis given when someone is showing some unexpected changes in their thinking but those changes are not so severe that they impact their ability to care for themselves or complete their daily tasks. It covers the gray area between typical aging and dementia. 


So how does one “get” mild cognitive impairment. Similar to dementia, mild cognitive impairment is an umbrella term. It describes a cluster of symptoms but does not identify an underlying cause. There are a number of reasons why someone may develop mild cognitive impairment. For example, depression, poor diet, and various health conditions such as diabetes can impact a person’s thinking to the point that a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment is appropriate. 


At this point you may be wondering, does a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment mean that my loved one or I will develop dementia? Unfortunately, the answer really is: It depends. As I mentioned earlier, mild cognitive impairment is a diagnosis that describes symptoms but not an underlying reason for those symptoms. It is the underlying cause of those symptoms that can impact someone’s progression. With a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment, there are 3 possible outcomes. One, the person will continue to show further losses in their thinking and will be diagnosed with dementia. Two, the person will demonstrate no further changes in their thinking but continue to demonstrate that original loss or three, the person will actually show an improvement in their thinking and no longer meet criteria for a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment. 


So what does this mean for you or your loved one if you have been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment? It means take care of yourself Careblazer! Talk with your provider, ask for suggestions to help improve your thinking. Look at what health concerns you or your loved one may have and start devoting time to managing those even just a little bit better. If the issue is depression or a mental health concern, consider working with a mental health professional to address those issues. 


OK Careblazer, now for a quick summary: Mild cognitive impairment, mild neurocognitive disorder, or slight thinking loss all refer to the same thing: changes in someone’s thinking that do not rise to the level of requiring assistance to complete daily tasks. This diagnosis is different from a dementia diagnosis in that a dementia diagnosis requires greater levels of change in thinking ability to the point that the person begins to have trouble completing their daily tasks. People who are diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment tend to see one of three outcomes depending on the underlying cause of the diagnosis and their actions to care for themselves: they progress to meeting criteria for dementia, they stay the same, or the demonstrate improvement. 


Carebalzer, I hope this was helpful for you. Please feel free to type any other questions you may have on this topic in the comments below. Keep up the great work Careblazer!


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