Memory Loss: Simply Aging Or Something More Serious?

Memory function declines with age, but are you unsure if your loved one’s decline is
normal? Is it simply memory loss, or something more serious? Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) may be an early sign of Alzheimer’s.
This chart from the Mayo Clinic illustrates the differences.


See a physician for help if your older loved one is experiencing an increase in the number of memory-challenged episodes. The physician may perform a quiz on thinking, memory, and language skills to see if the senior has MCI, and may refer the patient to a specialist for more tests. MCI may be an early sign of Alzheimer’s so it’s important to see a healthcare provider every 6 to 12 months.

When attempting to diagnose MCI, doctors use the following benchmarks, which a panel of international experts developed:

The patient has problems with memory or another mental function such as planning, following instructions, or making decisions. Ideally, a person’s own impressions are corroborated by someone else close to the patient.

Declined over time. A careful medical history reveals that cognitive ability has declined from a higher level. Again, this change is ideally confirmed by a family member or a close friend.

Overall mental function and daily activities are not affected. Medical history shows general abilities and daily activities are basically not impaired, although specific symptoms may cause worry and inconvenience.

Mental status testing shows a mild level of impairment for patient’s age and education level. Doctors often assess mental performance with a test such as the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE). More detailed neuropsychological testing may show the degree of memory impairment, which types of memory are most affected, and whether other mental skills are also impaired.

The diagnosis is not dementia. The problems that are described and what the doctor documents through corroborating reports, medical history, or mental status testing are not severe enough to be diagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease, which is a type of dementia. In that case, the doctor may give a neurological exam that tests for other diseases that impair memory and physical functioning. Lab tests can help to pinpoint other problems such as a vitamin B-12 deficiency. An MRI or CT scan of your brain helps to rule out brain tumor, stroke or bleeding.

Treatment through home remedies and lifestyle

Changing lifestyle habits can make your loved one feel better overall and may help to deter mental decline. These include:

  • Regular
  • An everyday diet low in fat and rich in fruits and vegetables
  • Omega-3 fatty acids, which are also good for the heart
  • Social engagement and intellectual stimulation, which may make life more satisfying and help preserve mental function

The Journal of the American Medical Association has a guide on MCI.

Currently, there is no cure or treatment for mild cognitive impairment. If you believe that your aging loved one is experiencing MCI symptoms, contact a physician for further evaluation. MCI does not necessarily lead to dementia and Alzheimer’s although those who have MCI are at a greater risk for developing these conditions. It’s good to know that many people who have MCI remain at a steady level of cognitive ability or even improve their symptoms. Work with a physician for optimum results and the best approach to treatment.

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