Understanding mild cognitive impairment: Navigating memory changes

Written by: Professor Farooq Khan
Edited by: Sophie Kennedy

While occasional lapses in memory are common, for some individuals, these memory blanks may raise concerns about mild cognitive impairment (MCI). In this article, esteemed consultant psychiatrist Professor Farooq Khan sheds light on MCI, exploring its nature, signs, and potential implications.

What is mild cognitive impairment?

Mild cognitive impairment is a subtle but noticeable decline in cognitive abilities, particularly in memory and thinking skills. It's important to understand that while MCI can cause some challenges, it doesn't necessarily interfere significantly with daily life. Think of it as a middle ground between normal age-related memory decline and more serious conditions like dementia.


What are the signs of mild cognitive impairment?

Identifying mild cognitive impairment involves paying attention to specific signs. Individuals experiencing MCI may notice difficulties in remembering recent events, appointments, or familiar faces. Concentration and decision-making may also become slightly more challenging. It's crucial to note that these changes are often subtle and not severe enough to disrupt routine activities.


What causes mild cognitive impairment to develop?

MCI can result from various factors, such as age-related changes in the brain, genetics, or underlying health conditions. While the exact cause may vary, some common risk factors include cardiovascular issues, diabetes, and a history of stroke. Understanding these factors helps in addressing mild cognitive impairment more effectively.

As the understanding and research in dementia progresses further there are more in depth insights into MCI. Sub-classification of MCIs will become one of the mainstay in the future treatment of these conditions. For instance, the newly developed monoclonal antibodies for Alzheimer’s disease are licenced by FDA in the US for early Alzheimer’s dementia or for MCI due to Alzheimer’s disease. These molecules are specific and are designed to remove Amyloid beta depositions from the brain which are known to cause the pathologic changes in Alzheimer’s disease. Once these molecules are licenced in the UK, there will be a need to subtype and classify the MCI into different categories to appropriately choose patients who will be eligible for the treatment at MCI stage of Alzheimer’s disease.


When should I see a specialist?

If you or a loved one observes persistent changes in memory and cognitive function, seeking timely assessment is crucial. This involves a comprehensive evaluation by a healthcare professional, which may include memory tests, cognitive assessments, and a review of medical history. Early detection enables the development of strategies to manage symptoms and potentially slow down progression.

Currently there are no drugs or medications licenced for MCI in the UK but in the future the treatments might be available if the MCI is due to Alzheimer’s disease once approval of the medication comes through MHRA. While MCI itself doesn't always progress to more severe conditions, it's essential to stay vigilant. If you notice a significant decline in cognitive abilities or if daily activities become challenging, seeking professional help is paramount. A healthcare professional can conduct further assessments and provide guidance on appropriate interventions.


How can lifestyle interventions help to support people with mild cognitive impairment?

Managing mild cognitive impairment often involves adopting a healthy lifestyle. Regular physical exercise, a balanced diet, and sufficient sleep contribute significantly to overall brain health. Additionally, engaging in mentally stimulating activities, such as puzzles or social interactions, can help maintain cognitive function. A support network of friends and family can offer emotional support, making the journey more manageable.



If you are concerned about memory problems or the signs of cognitive impairment, you can schedule a consultation with Professor Khan by visiting his Top Doctors profile.

By Professor Farooq Khan

Professor Farooq Khan is a distinguished consultant psychiatrist based in Birmingham. He is renowned for his expertise in the comprehensive management of a range of mental health conditions, including dementia, depression, anxiety, panic disorder, cognitive impairment, and bipolar disorder. Professor Khan is additionally a registered specialist in old age psychiatry.

Professor Khan qualified in medicine from Deccan College of Medical Science in India in 1998, before pursuing further training in psychiatry. In this period, he achieved an MD in psychiatry from the Institute of Mental Health in Hyderabad, India. After relocating to the UK, Professor Khan achieved membership, and later fellowship, of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. He has served as a consultant psychiatrist at Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust since 2012, where he also held the senior position of clinical director of psychiatric specialties and dementia frailty for several years. He currently sees private patients at the Priory Wellbeing Centre in Birmingham.

In addition to his clinical responsibilities, Professor Khan holds a number of senior roles, including clinical lead for dementia for the West Midlands with NHS England and NHS Improvement, and chair of the Dementia Steering Committee for the Birmingham and Solihull ICB. He also served as an elected member of the Executive Board of the Royal College of Psychiatrists for several years. Professor Khan is a fellow of the Indian Psychiatric Society and has published a wealth of academic papers in medical journals.

Professor Khan is also a leading name in medical education, serving as a visiting professor at the University of Chester and an honorary senior clinical lecturer at Aston University. He also obtained a Master’s in medical education from Stafford University in 2014.

Professor Khan is dedicated to advancing quality of mental health care, particularly through integrated support services within the community. In 2010, his multidisciplinary team pilot project was awarded second prize in the Board Challenge Awards at Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust. He has also led similar projects with the aim of enhancing non-pharmacological management of behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia.

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