Mild Cognitive Impairment


Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a loss in memory. It does not get in the way of day-to-day tasks but can make it hard to make decisions and use language. MCI may raise the risk of getting dementia and Alzheimer disease later in life.

Areas of the Brain

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The causes are not clear. It may be caused by early brain changes of dementia or Alzheimer disease.

Risk Factors

MCI is more common in people over 65 years of age. Things that may raise your risk are:

  • Family history of MCI, dementia, or Alzheimer disease
  • Smoking
  • Health problems, such as depression, diabetes, and stroke
  • Inactivity
  • Low levels of vitamin D


Symptoms may be:

  • Forgetfulness
  • Irritability
  • Lack of emotion
  • Getting upset easily
  • Problems making decisions
  • Forgetting how to do tasks


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. Cognitive tests will also be done. The doctor may also talk with family members and caregivers.

More tests may be done to confirm the diagnosis. For example:

  • Blood tests may be done to look for genetic mutations.
  • A lumbar puncture may also be done to check the fluid around the brain and spine.
  • Images may be taken of the brain. This can be done with an MRI or CT scan.


Treatment is aimed at managing symptoms. Healthy habits can ease impact of symptoms. Steps may include:

  • Cognitive training to improve memory and function
  • Getting light exercise
  • Eating a healthful diet that includes fish


There are no medicines that have been shown to help MCI. Some people may be given cholinesterase inhibitors to treat changes in thinking.


Healthy habits may lower the risk of MCI in some people. This means exercising, eating a healthful diet, not smoking, and staying mentally active.


American Psychiatric Association
National Institute on Aging


The Alzheimer Society of Canada


Albert MS, Dekosky ST, et al. The diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment due to Alzheimer's disease: recommendations from the National Institute on Aging-Alzheimer's Association workgroup on diagnostic guidelines for Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimers Dement. 2011 May;7(3):270-279.
Mild cognitive impairment. Alzheimer's Association website. Available at: Accessed October 18, 2020.
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed October 18, 2020.
Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD