In general, although mild cognitive impairment may be frustrating and inconvenient, it usually does not disrupt a person’s day-to-day activities or abilities. Most people with this disorder, for example, still can drive safely, pay their bills and take care of themselves.
Mild cognitive impairment can be a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. But that’s not always the case. In some people, symptoms stay the same and don’t get any worse. In a few individuals, symptoms may get better with time.
It should be noted, too, that even if your father often forgets important items, that doesn’t necessarily mean he has mild cognitive impairment. It could be a symptom of another medical condition, such as anxiety, depression, vitamin B-12 deficiency, or thyroid problems, among others. Memory loss also can be a side effect of many medications. So it’s worthwhile to discuss these problems with your father’s doctor to find out if the source of memory loss could be something treatable.
If your father starts having problems in his day-to-day life due to memory lapses or difficulty with other mental tasks, that definitely needs to be addressed with a physician. Examples include becoming overwhelmed or confused when faced with decisions, having a difficult time driving, getting irritated or upset when mental concentration is required to complete a task, or having trouble following step-by-step instructions.
If his doctor suspects Alzheimer’s, imaging exams and laboratory tests can help show what’s happening within the brain. Tests that assess memory and other thinking skills, judge functional abilities and identify behavior changes also can be useful in diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease. The doctor may want to ask you questions about your father’s cognitive skills, functional abilities and behaviors and how they’ve changed over time. This type of thorough evaluation often can help identify Alzheimer’s disease in its early stages. — Ronald Petersen, M.D., Ph.D., Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.
Medical Edge from Mayo Clinic is an educational resource and doesn’t replace regular medical care. Email a question to email@example.com. For more information, visit www.mayoclinic.org.