If you or a loved one suffer from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or know someone who does, you understand the frustrations that come with it. The condition can cause problems in memory, language, thinking, and judgment – even while you’re still able to perform everyday activities.
MCI also is considered an intermediate stage between the normal cognitive decline of aging and dementia, of which the most common type is Alzheimer’s disease. And having MCI may also increase your risk of developing dementia later in life.
But a recent study has delivered good news when it comes to cognitive decline. The study by researchers at the Mayo Clinic showed that older U.S. adults were less likely to develop MCI if they engaged in mentally stimulating activities once or twice a week.
Those who engaged in mental stimulation, the researchers noted, may be protecting themselves from “new-onset MCI.”
Certain Activities Linked to Lower MCI Risk
Research has already shown that mental stimulation is associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline and dementia. But there had been few studies about the possible connection between mental stimulation and MCI until the Mayo Clinic undertook its research that began in 2006 and lasted just over a decade.
Researchers defined mentally stimulating activities to include computer use, reading books, craft activities, playing games and social activities such as going to movies and the theater.
Results showed that computer use was associated with a 30 percent decreased risk of new-onset MCI, a 28 percent decreased risk with craft activities, 23 percent with social activities, and 22 percent with gameplay.
The Mayo Clinic researchers were unsure why certain activities produced a lower risk of developing MCI than other types of mental stimulation tested. However, their findings suggested that the specific technical and manual skills required for an activity such as computer use may be linked with the decreased risk.
The study also showed that mental stimulation may also lower the risk of MCI in people who carry the gene APOE e4, which is linked to Alzheimer’s.
What is MCI?
As mentioned, people with MCI experience noticeable declines in memory and thinking skills but not enough to greatly interfere with their everyday activities. Some people with MCI never get worse.
What causes MCI? The fact is, there’s no single cause for it. Evidence suggests that the condition develops from similar changes in the brain as those seen in patients with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. Other changes associated with MCI include shrinkage of the hippocampus – the region of the brain important to memory – enlargement of the brain’s ventricles, and a lower use of glucose.
If you experience any or all of the following symptoms, you may have cognitive issues that indicate MCI. A medical professional can help evaluate your symptoms.
- More forgetful than usual (i.e., forgetting a person’s name)
- Forgetting important appointments and social engagements
- You lose your train of thought or the thread of a conversation
- Increased feelings of being overwhelmed by making decisions, planning the steps to complete a task or interpreting instructions
- You have trouble finding your way around in familiar environments
- You show poor judgment or become increasingly impulsive
People with MCI may also exhibit signs of depression, irritability and aggression, anxiety, and apathy
Risk Factors for MCI
There are certain risk factors that may increase your likelihood of developing MCI, including age, but also:
- Having a form of the gene APOE-e4, which is also linked to Alzheimer’s
- Medical conditions and lifestyle factors such as diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression, a lack of physical exercise, and little or no participation in mentally and socially stimulating activities.
The Mayo Clinic study clearly indicated that there is a connection between mentally stimulating activities and a decreased risk of MCI, including a decreased risk of people who carry the APOE e4 gene.