You are not alone. The definitions of MCI, Alzheimer’s and dementia can get quite confusing.
Dementia is like a big umbrella. Dementia is a global malfunction of the brain, a brain failure, and is used to describe a group of symptoms affecting intellectual and social abilities severe enough to hinder activities of daily living. Individuals with dementia have problems with short-term memory, communication and language, reasoning and judgment, and visual perception.
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia and accounts for about 80 percent to 85 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, decreased judgment and changes in mood or personality.
In addition to Alzheimer’s, there are over 50 other known causes of dementia. In addition to Alzheimer’s, the most common causes of dementia 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, or MCI, 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 coined “senior moments,” those times when we forget a person’s name but recall it later. Or, we might misplace our reading 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, engage in socialization, or live and work independently. 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 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 the 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.