Treatment for Mild Cognitive Impairment: Does It Work?

Treatment for Mild Cognitive Impairment: Does It Work?

Forgetting where you left the car keys or missing an important appointment is a normal part of aging. Sometimes, those cognitive changes are more severe than you’d expect for your age. When you have cognitive problems — such as forgetfulness, impulsivity, or brain fog — that haven’t yet advanced to dementia, that’s considered mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

Patients with mild cognitive impairment can usually take care of themselves and engage in normal, everyday activities. With time, however, they are at increased risk of developing dementia.

Unfortunately, there is no drug to cure mild cognitive impairment, but some treatment options are available to slow its progression. At Neural Effects, we offer a combination of physical exercise and cognitive therapy — an approach proven to slow down the rate of mental decline in patients with mild cognitive impairment.

In this post, we’ll explain more about…

Neural Effects uses the latest evidence-based techniques to stimulate the areas of your brain that need the most help. We are located in Provo, Utah, and serve anyone in Salt Lake City or the Utah valley area. We are in network for most types of medical insurance. Schedule your evaluation today.

What Is Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)?

Keys left in door lock can be a sign of forgetfulness.

Mild cognitive impairment causes minor problems with cognition, such as short-term memory loss or problems with spatial perception. These cognitive difficulties are worse than would normally be expected for a healthy person of the same age, but not severe enough to be classified as dementia. MCI is sometimes confused with early-stage dementia, but the two are not automatically the same thing.

The changes that come with MCI don’t prevent patients from performing activities of daily living. However, these patients may need some help with tasks like managing medication or making sure bills are paid on time.

Mild cognitive impairment is much more prevalent in older adults: Less than 10% of people in their 60s experience this condition, but the number climbs up to almost 40% for those over 85. Having MCI increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia-related conditions. Researchers have found that around 15% of patients with MCI will develop dementia within two years after diagnosis.

Symptoms of Mild Cognitive Impairment

Impulsive decisions can be a sign of MCI.

Symptoms of mild cognitive impairment are not as severe as the symptoms of dementia. If you have MCI, you might…

  • forget obligations like doctor’s appointments or social events more often
  • lose your train of thought or have difficulty finding the right words during a conversation
  • feel overwhelmed making decisions or understanding instructions
  • feel agitated or flustered for no reason
  • get confused or disoriented when driving, even in familiar environments
  • become more impulsive
  • find it difficult to be organized or plan what you need to do
  • start tripping more often and have less manual dexterity

What Causes Mild Cognitive Impairment?

Some symptoms may be caused my medication.

There isn’t a single cause to explain all cases of mild cognitive impairment. Some people develop symptoms caused — or at least aggravated —by a treatable condition. In most cases, treating these conditions will help improve your memory and overall cognitive function. Some possible causes of MCI include:

  • High blood pressure: High blood pressure is often accompanied by damage to blood vessels in the body, including the brain. This can make your cognitive problems worse.
  • Depression and anxiety: Depression may cause brain fog, making you forgetful and struggling to think clearly. Treating depression will improve your memory, making it easier to handle daily activities.
  • Sleep problems: If you experience sleep apnea or other disruptions to your sleep, you may feel tired and unable to focus the following day. Improving your sleep quality can improve these symptoms and restore alertness.
  • Side-effects from medications: Certain medications can cause cognitive issues, but symptoms typically fade away once medication stops. Examples include antihistamines to treat allergies and benzodiazepines for anxiety.
  • Previous mild traumatic brain injuries: Mild TBI (commonly known as concussion) can result in lingering symptoms over time. Tell your healthcare provider if you have a history of brain injury.

In other patients, however, mild cognitive impairment is not caused by any underlying medical condition. Researchers believe it all starts with the same type of brain damage observed in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. These cases are generally irreversible, and many patients will go on to develop dementia.

Researchers are still trying to better identify risk factors that indicate which MCI patients will develop dementia. At the moment, it’s impossible to predict with certainty what will happen to each patient.

How Is Mild Cognitive Impairment Diagnosed?

Your doctor may need time to evaluate you over time before providing a diagnosis.

Diagnosing mild cognitive impairment can be challenging and may take some time. Unfortunately, there is no test to confirm a diagnosis of MCI with 100% certainty. Your doctor will make a determination based on your symptoms and the results of a few tests.

Typically, the process starts when you chat with your family doctor about your (or your family’s) concerns about memory loss, attention difficulties, brain fog, or other cognitive symptoms. The doctor will ask about your medical history and whether any of your family members developed dementia.

The primary objective of this evaluation is to assess your risk of dementia and look for underlying conditions that could be causing your symptoms. Your healthcare provider may order some blood tests to detect anemia, diabetes, thyroid dysfunction, or other disorders.

Your doctor should also evaluate your cognitive function and what changes you’ve noticed over time. This may help greatly with diagnosis. For example, rapid cognitive decline over weeks or months is not typical of mild cognitive impairment and may suggest a brain tumor or a metabolic condition.

At this stage, you may be referred to a neuropsychologist for more comprehensive tests. These tests may include an interview as well as written or computer-based tests to assess memory, attention, language, motor functions, and even social attitudes and behaviors. If needed, you may also be assessed for depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions.

Some patients undergo a CT scan or MRI to rule out tumors, brain bleeding, or stroke. These scans are also used to detect loss of brain mass, which is typically associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia.

Can Treatment for Mild Cognitive Impairment Reverse the Condition?

A combination of aerobic exercise with cognitive therapy as a treatment for mild cognitive impairment can help prevent worsening of symptoms and may even improve them slightly.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved any drugs or other therapies for the treatment of MCI. One option for patients with mild cognitive impairment involves using multiple therapies in combination, such as cognitive, physical, and occupational therapy. This is not a cure, but it can delay the progression of symptoms. Some patients with MCI even see their symptoms improve after these therapies.

Therapy is the treatment approach of choice at Neural Effects. We offer a combination of physical exercise and cognitive therapies to maximize results.

After exercise, patients experience something called a post-exercise cognitive boost. During this period, the brain is more receptive to building new connections during therapy. As a result, the brain “learns” better and becomes more efficient.

Research has shown that this approach has a more substantial impact on cognitive function than just exercise or cognitive therapy in isolation. Participants in these studies saw improvements in short and long-term memory, executive ability, attention, spatial orientation, and verbal fluency, as well as overall resilience, to name just a few.

Neural Effects uses the latest evidence-based techniques to stimulate the areas of your brain that need the most help. We are located in Provo, Utah, and serve anyone in Salt Lake City or the Utah valley area. We are in network for most types of medical insurance. Schedule your evaluation today.

Neural Effects’ Assessment for MCI

Assessment includes many types of evaluations.

All our patients undergo neuropsychological testing (also called a neurocognitive evaluation). The aim is to understand what kind of cognitive issues you’re experiencing. We use the information from your assessment to customize therapy to your needs.

Some patients arrive with a diagnosis from their doctor, while others are just starting their journey to diagnosis. Whether you already have a diagnosis or not, we always perform our own evaluation and suggest further testing if needed. Our examination includes a series of tests to assess memory, attention, executive function, and language. We also assess patients for depression and anxiety.

Your final diagnosis usually results from a combination of all the tests conducted at Neural Effects and by your doctor (often a neurologist). Once your examination is complete, we meet with you and your family members to discuss the results and suggest treatment options.

Treatment at Neural Effects

Treatment includes a variety of customized activities.

The type of therapies we use focus on problems identified during evaluation. If you are struggling with memory, we’ll carry out exercises to stimulate the areas of your brain involved in memory. For example, you might create a short story based on picture cards and then recreate the placement of the cards by remembering the story. We also have exercises to improve attention, thinking skills, language, vision, and more.

We combine these therapies with aerobic exercise to increase their effectiveness.

This treatment can continue for as long as you need. You can even bring a family member to the sessions so they can learn the exercises and help you do them at home. Practice at home is an important aspect of treatment regardless of whether you continue therapy long-term or learn to be self-sufficient.  

Tips for Managing Mild Cognitive Impairment

A well-balanced diet includes a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.

We encourage every patient with mild cognitive impairment to adopt a healthy lifestyle to slow down the progression of the disease. A 2-year, large-scale study with over 2,500 participants found fewer signs of cognitive decline over the period of the study in adults who maintained a combination of healthy habits, such as eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and taking part in social events. We recommend:

  • Regular exercise: Engage in regular exercise, such as a 30-minute brisk walk or a swim a few times a week.
  • Healthy diet: Eat a diet rich in fruit and vegetables and with fewer dairy products, like butter or cheese. Keep your alcohol consumption within recommended limits.
  • Regular routine: Having a daily routine for the critical things you need to do, such as taking medication, can help minimize memory problems. When you can, keep important items in the same place so they’re easier to find.
  • Keep your brain active: Stimulate your mind with puzzles, games, or a good book.
  • Find time to relax: Whether it’s enjoying your favorite music or sitting in the garden — just find some time during the day to relax.
  • Break down tasks into smaller steps: If you find yourself struggling to follow too many instructions at the same time, break down what you’re doing into smaller steps. If you need to make a meal, start by making a list of the ingredients you need, then purchase them, then follow the recipe, and so forth.
  • Get a good night’s sleep: Make sure you follow good sleep patterns. Avoid computer screens, alcohol, and caffeine before bed.
  • Stay socially active: Make an effort to keep in touch with friends and family. Consider new activities such as joining a book club or going to the gym.

Neural Effects uses the latest evidence-based techniques to stimulate the areas of your brain that need the most help. We are located in Provo, Utah, and serve anyone in Salt Lake City or the Utah valley area. We are in network for most types of medical insurance. Schedule your evaluation today.