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Senior Lifestyles

Mild Cognitive Dementia: Boosting brain health, reducing risk


Many of us have experienced a “senior moment” – you forget where you parked the car or you can’t quite find the word you want to say. As we age, we notice changes in our ability to remember and worry if it is a sign of normal aging or something more serious, such as dementia. When is it time to be concerned?

There is a gradual continuum of symptoms associated with the development of dementia, starting with the cognitive changes associated with normal aging. In between the two ends of the spectrum is a clinical diagnosis of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). The Alzheimer’s Association reports that between 10 and 20 percent of Americans over age 65 suffer from MCI.

In 2011, the National Institute on Aging and the Alzheimer’s Association collaborated to establish criteria used to diagnose the condition, defined as “cognitive changes serious enough to be noticed by the individuals experiencing them or other people, but not severe enough to interfere with daily life or independent function.” Because is it often difficult to differentiate the symptoms of MCI from those that would be considered “normal,” patients with suspected MCI can undergo a series of neuropsychological memory tests.

A diagnosis of MCI is considered a risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease, but that is a far from a certain outcome. Some people with MCI never get worse, and a few actually get better.

Life with MCI can be challenging. Patients and caregivers need to find ways to adapt to varying symptoms and learn new skills for managing the condition. Finding help for this poorly understood condition can be difficult.

Resources for MCI sufferers

A new book, “Living with Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Guide to Maximizing Brain Health and Reducing Risk of Dementia” (Oxford University Press, 2013), is the first written specifically for individuals diagnosed with MCI and their caregivers. It is an invaluable resource filled with practical information that can help the many people impacted by the condition.

Authors Nicole D. Anderson, Kelly J. Murphy and Angela K. Troyer are neuropsychologists who work with MCI patients. Their experience and knowledge shine throughout the book. “Living with Mild Cognitive Impairment” provides an in-depth yet understandable portrait of MCI, including how it differs from dementia, how it is diagnosed and how it is treated.

The final section of the book – “What Can Be Done to Improve Prognosis?” – is perhaps the most valuable. It includes scientifically based strategies for coping with and combating cognitive decline. Diet, exercise, cognitive and social engagement are addressed.

The final chapter, “Memory Strategies,” is full of exercises and tips for improving day-to-day functioning. Case studies throughout the book illustrate concepts, and each chapter offers suggestions for questions to ask the doctor.

Ever wonder what it feels like to experience dementia? Psychologist Richard Taylor compiled a fascinating collection of essays in his book “Alzheimer’s from the Inside Out” (Health Professions Press, 2007). Taylor, diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 58, eloquently and candidly chronicles his decline.

Taylor reminds us that those living with dementia are complete human beings with the same desires and needs as anyone else. Diagnosed with probable Alzheimer’s 10 years ago, he has dedicated his life to what he calls “humanizing dementia care.” In addition to his book, he has a website and blog, richardtaylorphd.com, where he invites anyone to contact him. This insightful book is highly recommended for caregivers, both personal and professional, and may even be appropriate for some Alzheimer’s patients.

Both “Living with Mild Cognitive Impairment” and “Alzheimer’s from the Inside Out” can be found on the shelves of Stanford Health Library. To learn more about Mild Cognitive Impairment and dementia prevention, diagnosis and treatment, call, email or stop by a branch. Librarians and trained volunteers will help with research, free of charge.

The main branch of Stanford Health Library is located at Hoover Pavilion, 211 Quarry Road, Suite 201. Other branches are located on the first floor of Stanford Hospital and the main level of Stanford’s Cancer Center.

Nancy Dickenson is head librarian at Stanford Health Library. For more information, call 725-8400 or visit healthlibrary.stanford.edu.

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