May 6, 2015

From Mild Cognitive Impairment to Alzheimer's Disease

By Carole Larkin
Alzheimer's Reading Room
Mild Cognitive Impairment Alzheimer's Disease | Alzheimer's Reading Room


Q. What changes can one expect when mild cognitive impairment becomes early stage Alzheimer’s?

A. It’s an excellent question, and one that is not easy to answer.

First, did you know that mild cognitive impairment does not always progress to Alzheimer’s disease? Research to date has shown that only a minority of people with mild cognitive impairment continue on to full blown Alzheimer’s. About 20% will go on to develop Alzheimer’s.

That means 80% won’t! Of course, these percentages are modified by the various definitions of mild cognitive impairment and early stage Alzheimer’s. Expect more changes in definition of these terms and maybe of the percentages as we learn more about the disease.


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Let’s go on to the heart of your question.

Well, the first problem in answering is that it’s tough to generalize because in truth, each person is their own unique individual always, with the disease or not. So it stands to reason that each person will progress in the disease in their own unique way.

That said, generally deficits begin showing up in mild cognitive impairment in some or all of the following areas of cognition:
  1. Executive functions such as logic and reasoning, impulse control, awareness of self in regards to deficits in thinking, empathy, initiation of ideas and actions, attention to task and personality.
  2. Memory especially short term or recent memory, but even some long term memory.
  3. The ability to learn new things, taking more and more repetitions or practice to learn.
  4. Muscle Memory like control of body functions such as shuffling of feet while walking or increasing episodes of “not making it in time” to the bathroom.
In mild cognitive impairment people develop what I call “workarounds” that is, methods or tricks to help them accomplish things they used to be able to do in everyday life.

Probably the most common example of a work around is sticky notes everywhere reminding the person what he or she has to do.



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Carole Larkin
Carole Larkin MA, CMC, CAEd, DCP, QDCS, EICS is an expert in Alzheimer’s and related Dementia care. She is a Certified Geriatric Care Manager who specializes in helping families with Alzheimer’s and related dementia issues. Carole can consults with families via telephone nationwide on problems related to dementia. Her company, ThirdAge Services LLC, is located in Dallas, TX.

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*Executive functions (also known as cognitive control and supervisory attentional system) is an umbrella term for the management (regulation, control) of cognitive processes, including working memory, reasoning, task flexibility, and problem solving as well as planning and execution.

*Muscle memory is not a memory stored in your muscles, of course, but memories stored in your brain that are much like a cache of frequently enacted tasks for your muscles.

*Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is an intermediate stage between the expected cognitive decline of normal aging and the more serious decline of dementia. It can involve problems with memory, language, thinking and judgment that are greater than normal age-related changes.