The names of your friends suddenly escape you, you find you become disoriented in your own neighborhood, or you forgot the score of the football game you just watched. If you or a loved one have ever experienced this type of memory loss, you know how frightening it can be! But, how can you determine if your memory loss is mild cognitive impairment, also known as “pre-dementia,” or if it is actually Alzheimer’s itself?
The Difference Between Mild Cognitive Impairment and Alzheimer’s:
The line between mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s shifted dramatically in 2011 when the criteria for diagnosing Alzheimer’s changed for the first time in 30 years. Before the change, the diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment was reserved for people with memory loss that did not disrupt their daily routine. But now, the criteria for mild cognitive impairment also includes problems with learning, attention, and other cognitive issues, and states that people with mild cognitive impairment can function independently, whereas a person with Alzheimer’s cannot. This is where the new diagnosis draws criticism, as the ability to function independently could still mean that someone needs help paying bills, running errands, cooking, and keeping up with other daily tasks.
Since the new diagnostic criteria, it seems an Alzheimer’s diagnosis is now reserved for those who have suffered irreversible brain degeneration. When advanced Alzheimer’s or dementia set in, memory loss and cognitive impairment take over daily life. It’s important to intervene before that point to slow down or even stop the decline in brain health. The symptoms below distinguish mild cognitive impairment from the more advanced pathologies of Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Mild Cognitive Impairment Symptoms:
- Memory loss
- Language disturbances—for instance, can’t find the right word
- Difficulty with attention, focus, or concentration
- Difficulty making decisions
- Difficulty understanding
- Disorientation in familiar environments
- Trouble remembering names
- Lose train of thought or thread of conversations, books, or movies
- Increased tendency to misplace things Heavy reliance on notes and calendars, notes, and lists to manage daily activities
- Making a decision, planning a task, or interpreting instructions feels overwhelming
- Become impulsive or show poor judgment
- Depression, anxiety, apathy
- Irritability or aggression
Symptoms Formerly Classified as Mild Alzheimer’s Disease, but May Now Be Diagnosed as Mild Cognitive Impairment:
- Worsened memory loss
- Problems getting lost more regularly
- Trouble handling money and paying bills
- Repeating questions
- Takes longer to perform daily tasks
- Poor judgment
- Mood and personality changes
Symptoms of Moderate Alzheimer’s Disease:
- Symptoms impair a person’s ability to function in daily life
- Areas of the brain that control language, reasoning, sensory processing, and conscious thought are damaged
- Memory loss and confusion grow
- Problems recognizing family and friends
- Unable to learn new things
- Unable to carry out tasks that have multiple steps, such as getting dressed
- Unable to cope with new situations
- May have hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia
- May behave impulsively
Symptoms of Severe Alzheimer’s Disease:
- At this stage plaques and tangles have spread throughout the brain
- Brain tissue has shrunk significantly
- Cannot communicate
- Completely dependent on others for care
- May be in bed most of the time
- Body begins to shut down
Not everyone with mild cognitive impairment develops Alzheimer’s, but everyone with Alzheimer’s started with mild cognitive impairment. An estimated 10-15 percent of people experiencing mild cognitive impairment go on to develop Alzheimer’s.
Regardless of where you lie on the now broadened mild cognitive impairment spectrum, intervening using natural therapies and diet and lifestyle changes should be done as soon as possible. To learn more about the alternative medicine strategies to prevent memory loss, view our resources on the topic.
 New Criteria May Change Alzheimer’s Diagnosis, Alice Park. Time, Feb. 8, 2012. http://healthland.time.com/2012/02/08/why-a-new-definition-of-cognitive-impairment-may-confuse-patients/
 2012 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures. Alzheimer’s & Dementia, Volume 8, Issue 2.