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

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The causes are not clear. It may be from early brain changes that happen with dementias 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 your symptoms and health history. 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 with changes in lifestyle habits. These are:

  • 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

Seniors 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, 2019.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated August 21, 2019. Accessed October 18, 2019.

Last reviewed September 2019 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD  Last Updated: 8/7/2020