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Mild Cognitive Impairment

February 19, 2016 (Updated: November 26, 2018)
Lily Moran

It happens all the time—you walk into a room in order to get something. But for a few seconds or longer, you can’t remember what it is.

That’s the mild end of the spectrum. And very little reason for fear or concern, right?

Maybe not.

Now imagine you’re in a room. Other people are there, but you don’t know who they are. You don’t recognize your own children. Or spouse. Or best friend.

That’s downright terrifying.

“Cognitive impairment.” It can be as fleeting as “mild cognitive impairment” (MCI) and as devastating as Alzheimer’s.

Are you at risk of MCI?

There’s a new way to test whether you’re at increased risk for developing MCI—defined as memory or other impairments that are more severe than normal for a person your age, but don’t interfere with daily living.

If daily activities are unaffected, why the test?

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The Olmstead County MCI Risk Score, named for the Mayo Clinic’s home county, where the study took place, is vitally important because MCI is often a precursor to Alzheimer’s or other cognition disorders. The sooner trouble is identified, the sooner behavioral, lifestyle, or other interventions can begin.

You help determine your risk

Researchers combined individual medical records and cognitive test scores with subject interviews and self-reporting to find factors common among the 28 percent who developed MCI over the study’s five years.

The subjects with the most risk factors were 700 percent more likely to develop MCI as those with lowest. Those factors included, not surprisingly:

  • Older age
  • Fewer years of education
  • Presence of a certain gene
  • Poorer performance on cognitive tests
  • Slowed gait
  • History of stroke or diabetes
  • Smoking
  • History of depression or anxiety
  • Heart health risk factors
  • Taking a higher number of medications

If your own experience includes any of the factors above, see if your doctor knows The Olmstead County process and ask them to run it—or some other kind of comprehensive cognitive function exam.

And regard the following as “warning signs” that require attention:

  • Difficulty remembering recent events, but not past events
  • Difficulty following conversations or TV/movie plots
  • Forgetting names of people, places, things
  • Difficulty remembering things you’ve heard, seen, or read
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Repeating yourself or losing track of what you were saying
  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • People commenting on your forgetfulness
  • Being upset, worried, or depressed about being forgetful

What should you do?

So many practices essential for good health overall play a key role in cognitive health:

  • Detox. I recommend this for almost everyone. Years of bad habits leave behind unwanted and sometimes dangerous debris throughout your system. A good juice or dietary detox can work wonders. Ask your doctor which is best for you.
  • Stay socially active. Engage with friends, family, events. They’re good medicine.
  • Treat your brain as a muscle and exercise it. Do puzzles and games, attend lectures or classes, any mentally challenging, stimulating activity.
  • Up your folate intake. Get folic acid naturally from dark green vegetables, lentils, beans, raw spinach, cooked asparagus and broccoli, avocado, mango, orange juice, wheat bread, oranges, and orange juice—or from a supplement, 400 micrograms a day.
  • Don’t be D-ficient. Low vitamin D = significantly greater risk of MCI. Get 20 minutes of direct sunlight daily. Consume D-fortified foods: milk, unsweetened yogurt, cereals, fish, egg yolks, liver. Get your D-level checked and ask your doctor about supplements. I recommend 1,000 IU daily.
  • Don’t just sit there. A sedentary life is a health threat. Even if you just stand up from your chair every hour, there are benefits. Better still, get outdoors and walk a bit. Then a bit more. Ask your doctor for a recommended routine.
  • Watch “re-runs.” Studies show that “restful reflection” improves memory of earlier events. Take time to relax and remember those events. They’ll then be more available for you to relate to current events.
  • Remember to remember. Our brains have the amazing capacity to sort of be in two places at once: doing something and observing how we’re doing it. Remind yourself to deliberately remember what, where, why, with whom you’re doing any activity.
  • Write to remember. Keeping a journal is a great way to cement and secure memories. Reading what you’ve written is like “watching reruns” above.
  • If you’re blue or worried, get help. Depression and anxiety just make everything worse. There are caring people close by. They’ll help you.

They say the mind is the first thing to go…but it doesn’t have to be that way. Implement these simple lifestyle suggestions, stay aware and focused, and you’ll enjoy a sharp mind and polished wit for life.


  • Zonderman, A. B., and T. Grimmer. “Risk of Mild Cognitive Impairment: The Olmsted County MCI Risk Score.” Neurology 84, no. 14 (2015): 1392-393.
  • Miller, J. et al. “Vitamin D Status and Rates of Cognitive Decline in a Multiethnic Cohort of Older Adults.” JAMA Neurol. 2015;72(11):1295-1303. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2015.2115.
  • Massachusetts General Hospital. Know Your Risk Factors for Mild Cognitive Impairment.
  • Willis, J. “A Neurologist Makes the Case for Teaching Teachers About the Brain.” July 27, 2012.

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