The definitions of MCI, Alzheimer’s and dementia can get quite confusing.
Dementia is like a big golf umbrella. Dementia is a global malfunction of the brain, or brain failure, and is used to describe a group of symptoms affecting intellectual and social abilities severe enough to hinder activities of daily living. Those with dementia have problems with short-term memory, communication and language, reasoning and judgment and visual perception.
Underneath that “golf umbrella” of dementia is the largest person: Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia and accounts for about 60 to 80 percent of all diagnosed cases of dementia. Dementia and Alzheimer’s are often used interchangeably because the symptoms are so similar. However, dementia is a set of symptoms, while Alzheimer’s describes what is causing the symptoms. Some warning signs of Alzheimer’s include memory loss, difficulty completing familiar tasks, confusion of time and place, difficulty understanding spatial relationships and visual images, problems with language and writing, misplacing objects and inability to recover/retrace steps, withdrawal, decrease judgment and changes in mood or personality.
There are as many as 80 other known causes of dementia under this umbrella. In addition to Alzheimer’s, the most common causes include vascular dementia, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, some types of multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, Lewy-Body dementia, frontotemporal dementia, Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, HIV-associated dementia, chronic alcohol abuse and dementia pugilistica (common in athletes who suffer concussions).
Mild cognitive impairment is the stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia. For instance, as we age we experience what are sometimes called “senior moments,” those times when we forget a person’s name, but recall it later. Or we might misplace our glasses, our car keys, or wallet occasionally. These changes in memory are generally minor, and they don’t disrupt our abilities to maintain normal activities.
Symptoms of MCI can include difficulty performing more than one task at a time, trouble solving complex problems or trying to make a decision, forgetting recent events or conversations, or taking a longer time to perform more difficult mental activities. A diagnosis of MCI means that the individual can usually perform daily activities with minimal change or difficulty.
The lines between normal age-related memory loss and MCI often get blurred. Individuals with MCI may remain stable for years, while an individual with Alzheimer’s experiences a gradual decline in cognitive abilities. That being said, individuals with MCI do have an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s or another form of progressive dementia.
Questions about Alzheimer's disease or a related disorder can be sent to Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, director of services at Alzheimer's Services of the Capital Area at email@example.com or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.