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Dementia vs. Mild Cognitive Impairment

Dementia is not a disease, it is a word used to describe a medical condition that involves cognitive impairment that impacts daily life. Alzheimer’s is the most prevalent, accounting for about 70% of all dementia cases. Vascular dementia is the second most common, at 10%; and the remaining cases include Lewy body and frontotemporal, along with rarer forms of dementia such as Parkinson’s, Korsakoff syndrome, and hydrocephalus.

Mild Cognitive Impairment (or MCI) is not dementia, and less than one-third of those with MCI will develop dementia. This is such a new area of study that often physicians are not aware that all MCI cases do not develop into dementia. In fact, the studies on MCI are very hopeful, indicating that lifestyle and diet are significant factors in slowing or even reversing it.

With either diagnosis, it is critical that, if someone is experiencing symptoms, a thorough search for any underlying medical condition is performed. This will answer an important question when the word “dementia” is being used: Are the symptoms related to an impairment of the brain, or is there a medical issue creating dementia-like features?

There are literally dozens of medical issues that can cause cognitive impairment or dementia-like symptoms, including:

  • Underactive thyroid
  • Vitamin/mineral deficiencies (B-12, D, potassium)
  • Depression
  • Brain tumors
  • Medication reactions
  • Infections (urinary, pneumonia, flu)
  • Dehydration and/or malnutrition
  • Hypoxia (poor heart/lung function)

Most of these issues are medically reversible, so testing is absolutely critical for someone who is showing symptoms. Especially if the change has been sudden or acute, make sure a physician tests for infection or prescription drug reactions. Even if someone is in their 90’s, don’t let doctors write off their symptoms as dementia, get a full medical (bloodwork and CT scan) to rule out any underlying medical issues.

Once medical causes are ruled out, it’s important to understand that each type of dementia progresses differently. Some are like a stair step, all is well for a certain amount of time, then there is a significant sudden decline; other progressions are marked by very slow regression over time. And for vascular dementia, good nutrition and exercise can allow a patient to maintain with no decline for a very long time.

And as for MCI, the hopeful news is that lifestyle, diet and exercise changes may not only halt any progression, in more and more cases the effects are reversed entirely.

Care Management Group of New Mexico has extensive experience handling all types of dementia as well as cutting-edge care management techniques for MCI. To learn more, contact us today.