Unlocking the Mind: The Keys to Prevention and Management of Mild Cognitive Impairment

Many aging adults experience signs of memory decline. However, when these signs start to interfere with daily functioning, an appointment with a professional is needed.

Some degree of cognitive decline is normal as we age. You may forget where you put your keys or your cellphone, or the name of an article you just read, but then you often remember later. Or you may notice processing new information takes a bit longer than it used to or following verbal directions is harder to do. We often call these experiences “senior moments.” Senior moments are pretty harmless and we all find ways to work around them.

However, consistent decline of mental performance may indicate that something more than just aging is affecting the way your brain functions. The explanation may be mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a stage in-between the normal forgetfulness that comes with aging and the more serious decline into dementia. 

MCI may begin to impact the capacity to work at prior levels of productivity.  It may be harder to handle day-to-day stressors. It may mean a shift in day-to-day responsibilities to your spouse or partner.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a rarely talked about and often misunderstood medical condition. With MCI, cognitive decline is greater than expected for a person’s age and education level. With this condition, issues with memory, language, judgment and thinking will be noticeable to you as well as family and friends. Cardiovascular disease (stroke or hypertension) is a risk factor for MCI and its potential progression.


Symptoms of Mild Cognitive Impairment

Some examples of MCI include forgetting a planned activity or having a conversation and forgetting it ever happened. Common signs and symptoms of MCI include:

  • Restlessness or Slowness
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of interest in social situations
  • Depression
  • Increased frustration and irritability
  • Losing track of conversations
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Forgetting things
  • Showing poor judgment or lack of consideration


Diagnosis of Mild Cognitive Impairment

When memory problems and symptoms start to worry you or become noticeable to others, you should reach out to a doctor to have an assessment performed to check if your memory problems are atypical for your age and background.

MCI identification can lead to preventive treatment, as well, by controlling risks. Some individuals may remain stable, others may return to “normal,” and a few may experience further cognitive decline. The earlier you get a diagnosis, the more that can be done to treat it and manage it effectively.

Reducing Your Risk of Mild Cognitive Impairment and its Symptoms

When considering measures to reduce or avoid the risk of developing MCI and other cognitive conditions, here’s a good rule of thumb: What’s good for the heart is good for the brain. Studies have shown that risk factors for cardiovascular disease may also be risk factors for developing disorders, such as MCI, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, in order for your heart to provide your brain with the nutrients and oxygen it requires, your heart needs to be working at a full and healthy capacity. In fact, your brain relies on 20 percent of your blood for nourishment and oxygen.

Therefore, many lifestyle choices that are optimal for heart health may be vital to the health and function of your brain. These choices apply to brain and heart health in both a preventative as well as a management capacity (in the event you’ve already developed MCI or another cognitive condition).


Our Recommendations

Studies indicate our cognitive health and function may be preserved or managed by making the following lifestyle changes:

MIND diet infographic

  • Develop healthier eating habits: The MIND Diet: Mediterranean diet for heart health plus DASH diet to lower high blood pressure. The goal is to reduce decline in brain health…neuro-protection.
    • It’s not about calorie counting.  It’s about eating brain-healthy foods and reducing foods that are not healthy.
      • Leafy green vegetables
      • Other vegetables
      • Nuts
      • Berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries)
      • Beans
      • Whole grains
      • Omega-3 rich fish
      • Lean proteins such as turkey or chicken
      • Healthy fat, anti-inflammatory olive oil
      • A glass of red wine
    • 5 unhealthy food groups
      • Red meats
      • Butter and stick margarine
      • Cheese
      • Pastries and sweets
      • Fried or fast food
  • Exercise: Regular physical exercise has been shown to prevent or slow cognitive decline by increasing the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. Talk with your physician to create a regimen that works best for you
  • Increase your social activity: Some studies have indicated that increasing social activity may preserve function and slow down decline of mental faculties
  • Keep your mind stimulated: Participating in activities, such as: board games (e.g., Scrabble), reading and discussing books, writing friends and family, keeping a journal, taking up a former interest such as playing a musical instrument, keep the score at a baseball game

Injuries and illness also play a role in cognitive impairment. Do what you can to protect yourself from head injuries. Accidents do happen, but you should use safety measures when doing physical activities, such as sports or exercise. Other types of issues and conditions that can harm your brain function include:

  • Infections and stroke are health crises that can lead to temporary or permanent effects on memory, thinking and speaking. 
  • A hypertensive episode can lead to a trip to the emergency room and acute medical care for stroke.
  • A stroke, whether it is “mini-stroke” (TIA) or full-blown stroke, can cause memory loss and cognitive decline.
  • A slip and fall injury in the bathroom or kitchen can lead to a concussion. Repeated concussions damage brain neurons and reduce brain function.

Another potential cause of memory loss and cognitive decline is viral infections such as H1N1 bird flu or coronaviruses. COVID-19 research is emerging to show that individuals who survived COVID-19 are experiencing lingering symptoms that have changed their quality of life. Patients complain of fatigue, muscle weakness, poor endurance, as well as difficulty concentrating, short-term memory loss and anxiety. Many require rehabilitation services such as physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. A neurocognitive examination may be needed for cognitive problems that persist.

How Can Montclair Memory Clinic Help With MCI?

Montclair Memory Clinic is a comprehensive center for evaluating, diagnosing and treating MCI and other cognitive disorders. After a thorough assessment, our specialists will work with you and your caregivers to create a customized treatment plan designed to meet your individual needs.

Our clinic is dedicated to restoring cognitive function and improving overall quality of life through various advanced techniques, bringing peace of mind to you and your loved ones.

Dr. Jacqueline Rondeau has been treating people with memory decline for nearly two decades. If you have concerns about memory loss or other cognitive issues, or would like to have an assessment performed, please contact Dr. Rondeau or our office to set up an appointment.