According to the Alzheimer’s Association, mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is an early stage of memory loss or other cognitive ability loss such as language or visual/spatial perception. However, people suffering from MCI maintain the ability to perform most daily living activities. Although daily living activities are not affected, the changes are serious enough that family and friends are sure to notice. Some people might wonder if mild cognitive impairment always progresses to dementia. Keep reading to learn more about mild cognitive impairment and its connection with MCI.

Does Mild Cognitive Impairment Always Progress to Dementia?

What is Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)?

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a condition in which people have memory or other thinking problems greater than normal for their age and education. However, the signs and symptoms of MCI are not as severe as those seen in people with Alzheimer’s disease. While it is not necessarily dementia, MCI can be a condition that commonly leads to Dementia.

Signs and Symptoms of MCI

If you have a mild cognitive impairment, you may be aware that your memory or mental function has gotten worse. Friends and family may also notice changes in your abilities and memories. Most of the time the changes are not severe enough to significantly interfere with your daily activities of life. The most common signs and symptoms of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) include:

  • Troubles reasoning, planning, or problem-solving
  • Memory loss
  • Easily distracted
  • Impaired language – taking longer than normal to find the right words for something
  • Struggles with visual depth perception, judging distance, or navigating stairs


Mild cognitive impairment may increase your risk of later developing dementia caused by Alzheimer’s. Like the rest of your body, your brain changes as you age. For example, forgetfulness and memory problems can become worse as you age. Also, thinking of a word or phrase may take longer to process. Or, remembering a person’s name and recalling directions may be difficult.

Increasing concern about your mental performance may suggest mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or other cognitive issues.

MCI & Dementia

According to the Mayo Clinic, current evidence indicates that MCI often, but not always, develops from a lesser degree of the same types of brain changes seen in Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Some of these changes have been identified in autopsy studies of people with MCI. Brain changes include:

  • Abnormal clumps of beta-amyloid protein (plaques) and microscopic protein clumps of tau characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease (tangles)
  • Lewy bodies – microscopic clumps of another protein associated with Parkinson’s disease, dementia with Lewy bodies, and some cases of Alzheimer’s disease
  • Small strokes or reduced blood flow through brain blood vessels

Brain-imaging studies show that the following changes may be associated with MCI:

  • Shrinkage of the hippocampus, a brain region important for memory
  • Enlargement of the brain’s fluid-filled spaces (verticals)
  • Reduced use of glucose, the sugar that’s the primary source of energy for cells, in key brain regions

Risk Factors

A person with MCI has a significantly increased risk – but not a certainty – of developing dementia. Overall, about one to three percent of older adults develop dementia every year. Studies suggest that around 10 to 15 percent of individuals with MCI go on to develop dementia each year.


Although MCI cannot always be prevented, research has found some environmental factors that can affect the risks of developing mild cognitive impairment. Studies show that these actions may help prevent cognitive impairment:

  • Engage socially
  • Eat a balanced, nutrient-rich diet that is low in saturated fats
  • Limit alcohol use
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Do not smoke
  • Stimulate your mind with games, memory training, puzzles
  • Exercise regularly
  • Manage any health conditions (high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, obesity, elevated cholesterol)
  • Wear a hearing aid if you have hearing loss
  • Protect yourself from head injuries
  • Limit your exposure to air pollution

Additional Reading: Memory, Forgetfulness, and Aging: What’s Normal and What’s Not?  – National Institute on Aging

Promedcare | Fremont, Columbus, Norfolk, and Blair, Nebraska

Our goal is to keep you or your loved one healthy, happy, and safe at home. The Promedcare team of management and caregivers understands the importance of providing care within the comfort of one’s own home. Families choose Promedcare for different reasons. For some, it’s to provide extensive ongoing care for an aging senior. For others, we offer a much-needed break or, respite care – such as a night out with a spouse, vacation, or simply a few hours of quiet time at home – for family members who provide regular care. We offer a wide range of care services customized for each individual client. Promedcare services include Personal Care Services, Companion Care Services, Dementia / Alzheimer’s Care Services, and Respiratory Solutions.