Even Slight Mental Decline Can Harm Health, Studies Suggest

Research in elderly finds 'mild cognitive impairment' linked to higher risk for death, social isolation

MONDAY, July 16 (HealthDay News) -- Even the state of mild cognitive impairment, which often precedes dementia, is associated with a wide array of negative health effects, two new studies suggest.

According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is defined as "the stage between normal forgetfulness due to aging and the development of dementia." People with MCI -- which does not necessarily progress to dementia -- have mild issues with thinking and memory that do not keep them from daily activities.

The two studies on MCI were to be presented Monday in Vancouver at the annual meeting of the Alzheimer's Association.

Even though it may not seem alarming, mild cognitive impairment should be taken seriously, particularly among patients already struggling to manage other health problems, experts say.

Mental decline "of any kind is serious, and requires increased medical and personal attention," Dr. Ronald Petersen, a member of the Alzheimer's Association Board of Directors, explained in a news release issued by the meeting's organizers.

"These studies validate the challenges of people living with MCI and their families and speak to the need for physician education to better manage their cognitive impairment and its broader impact on a person's physical, mental and social health," Peters said.

One study was conducted by investigators from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York City. Led by Mindy Katz, researchers tracked more than 700 men and women over the age of 70 for up to 16 years (the typical patient was tracked for about five years). At the study launch, nearly one-quarter had already developed some form of MCI or full-blown dementia.

Katz' team found that those who had or developed dementia or MCI were "significantly" more likely (roughly two to three times as likely) to die than those who remained mentally healthy.

MCI involving some memory loss "was associated with a doubling of the risk of death," Katz noted in the news release. "Those people with other types of non-memory thinking difficulties were not at higher risk for mortality. This further supports the benefits of early detection and monitoring of cognitive impairment, not only in possibly preventing Alzheimer's dementia, but also for prolonging life."

The second study was led by Dr. Jeffrey Kaye of Oregon Health & Science University (OHS) in Portland. His team focused on 148 patients with an average age of about 84 years old, 28 of whom had been diagnosed with MCI.

Using motion sensor technology dispersed throughout each patient's home and at main exit doors, the team tracked patient activity and movement for up to three years.

The result: Those with MCI spent increasingly less time outside their home, relative to those who were mentally healthy.

"These findings suggest a progressive narrowing of interaction with the outside world," Kaye said. "This very likely diminishes quality of life and could potentially impact the progression of the disease."

While these observational studies suggest a link between MCI and negative health outcomes, they cannot prove cause-and-effect. Research presented at medical meetings is typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

For more on mild cognitive impairment and dementia, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

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