How to Reduce Your Risk of Mild Cognitive Impairment

How to Reduce Your Risk of Mild Cognitive Impairment

Has your memory been slipping more and more lately? Learn the symptoms of MCI and ways to reverse the harmful effects.

Have you noticed that you’re forgetting where you put your keys or shoes, losing your train of thought in a conversation, or having trouble remembering how to navigate your way to a familiar place? Well, those are some of the symptoms of what is called mild cognitive impairment (MCI)—and according to the American Academy of Neurology, it may affect around 6.7 percent of folks 60 to 64, increasing to more than 25 percent of those 80 to 84.

What causes MCI?
Good news: MCI may not be as scary as it sounds. Not only are there many causes, but there’s a lot you can do to reverse, halt, or slow progression, or avoid MCI altogether. Plus, only in about 15 percent of cases does MCI evolve into full-blown dementia in folks 65 and older—and it’s impossible to know how long that will take. (If Alzheimer’s disease is the underlying cause of initial symptoms, it could be two or three years—or longer.)

Are there different types of MCI?
There are two kinds of MCI: What’s called amnestic, meaning that you have memory problems; and the other is non-amnestic, which means you have other cognition problems that are more pronounced. They include problems with language (you can’t find the right words) and with decision-making and navigation (visuospatial difficulties).

What are the risk factors associated with MCI?
Some are hard to control: Guys may be more likely to experience problems than women and there can be genetic predispositions (does MCI run in the family?). But there are many factors you can control, including type 2 diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, smoking, elevated lousy LDL cholesterol, cardio-and cerebrovascular disease, body-wide inflammation, depression, and anxiety. Plus, we say age is also a risk factor that you have control over. Most places list it as a risk factor you cannot control and they’re wrong: You can take steps to make sure you have a younger RealAge by five, 10, or even 20 years!

Those risk factors are why the direct causes of MCI may include medications (for those various conditions), stroke or other vascular diseases associated with type 2 diabetes, a traumatic brain injury, or an underlying health issue, such as sleep deprivation or mental illness (depression or anxiety).

Make fighting MCI your Major Capital Improvement

  1. Ask your doc about possible medication side effects that may interfere with your cognition. Explore alternatives, if needed.
  2. Ask for a check-up to make sure you don’t have elevated glucose or LDL levels (get it below 70 mg/dL) or unidentified cardiovascular problems.
  3. If you have hypertension (your target is below 125/85), type 2 diabetes, or other cardiovascular diseases, discuss medications and lifestyle changes that can reverse or control your condition. Act today to spare your brain tomorrow.
  4. Embrace a healthy diet: eat dinner for breakfast and take in most of your daily calories for breakfast and lunch. Try the Mediterranean diet—plant-centered; minimal meats—mostly fish; lots of healthy oils. And bite into the life-changing What To Eat When Diet; go to or (search for The What to Eat When Plan Cheat Sheet).   
  5. Exercise regularly—five or more days a week, aim for 60 minutes of aerobics (some vigorous) and two days a week of strength training using stretch bands, hand weights, or weight machines. And move often—get up every hour for 10 minutes.

Bonus tip: Get a good night’s sleep
The British Journal of Nutrition has published a study that correlates waist circumference with reduced cognitive abilities that characterize both amnestic and non-amnestic MCI. That’s because the visceral fat packed around your internal organs (and increasing your waistline) triggers brain-damaging inflammation. So, battle the bulge by eating lean proteins and lots of veggies, getting regular physical activity, including strength-building and aerobics, and seven to eight hours of sleep nightly (sleep helps cognitive health and weight loss).

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