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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
Mesulam Center for Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease
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Diagnosis & Treatment of Mild Cognitive Impairment

Diagnosis

A comprehensive mild cognitive impairment (MCI) evaluation by a specialist (cognitive neurologist or geriatric psychiatrist) can help in two ways:

  1. Identify whether MCI is present
  2. Identify the cause of MCI

This evaluation includes screening for other causes of MCI such as depression, sleep disorders and medications. Blood tests may be ordered to ensure that thyroid, liver and kidney functions are normal since malfunction can affect cognitive functions. An MRI of the brain may be obtained to assess for possible strokes, tumors or other brain abnormalities that also can cause cognitive impairment. Testing by a neuropsychologist can help identify cognitive abnormalities and estimate the degree of cognitive impairment. Finally, if MCI due to Alzheimer's disease (AD) is suspected, a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) may be obtained to measure the buildup of proteins (amyloid and tau) of AD in the brain.

Treatment

There is no specific medication for MCI at this time. The medications available to treat AD have been used in some studies but are not always recommended for MCI. There are ongoing clinical trials to study whether experimental treatments designed for Alzheimer’s disease are helpful for those with MCI who have AD as a cause. If you are interested in clinical trials, you are encouraged to discuss whether enrollment is appropriate or feasible with your physician or a specialist. You can also find additional information regarding clinical trials on our website or at www.clinicaltrials.gov.

Importantly, there are a number of lifestyle modifications that have been shown to help individuals with MCI. These include:

  • Mediterranean-style diet
  • Physical exercise
  • Social engagement
  • Adequate sleep
  • Limited alcohol intake
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