Mild Cognitive Impairment

Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is a condition in which a person experiences a slight but noticeable decline in cognitive abilities, such as memory, language, and thinking skills. It is considered a transitional stage between normal aging and more severe conditions such as Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia.

MCI affects about 10-20% of people over 65 years of age. It is important to understand MCI and its symptoms as it can help in early detection and treatment. While there is no cure for MCI currently, early intervention can help manage symptoms and potentially slow down the progression to dementia.

Symptoms of MCI

People with MCI may experience the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty remembering recent events or names of people
  • Struggling to follow a conversation or plan
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks
  • Confusion and disorientation in new places or situations
  • Poor judgment and decision-making
  • Language problems, such as struggling to find the right words
  • Loss of interest in hobbies and social activities

Testing for MCI

Traditionally, assessing for MCI requires a lengthy lab or clinic visit with a neuropsychologist, which is expensive and only provides a “snapshot” of cognitive abilities at one time. Older adults also often have transportation or caregiving burdens to attending these testing sessions. Further, older adults often become fatigued after 1-2 hours and testing, and the validity of test data beyond that time period is often questionable. Mobile cognitive tests, administered using ecological momentary assessment (EMA) burst methodology, may complement traditional neuropsychological testing and overcome these barriers. Mobile cognitive tests are short and repeatable cognitive tests that individuals can self-administer on their smartphones in their daily lives. Given that cognitive abilities fluctuate based on the time of day someone is tested as well as by surrounding contexts that occur in day-to-day life, mobile cognitive testing offers the opportunity to identify meaningful changes in cognition over time.  This approach can be useful for assessing cognitive improvement over time (e.g., post-stroke recovery, TBI recovery) or decline due to a neurodegenerative process. Repeated, smartphone administration of mobile cognitive tests can be a cost-effective and time-efficient way to establish a more accurate baseline for cognitive abilities and are sensitive to person-specific changes over time. Additionally, these tests are often adaptive, which allows for a reduction in the number of trials administered and improvements in assessment accuracy. 

Coupling mobile cognitive tests with other digital health technologies, such as EMA surveys or wearable devices, can improve the accuracy of MCI diagnosis as well as the impact on daily functioning. For example, researchers can examine the real-time relationships between cognition and daily-life factors, such as mood, activities, and sleep, without relying on retrospective recall, which is particularly beneficial for individuals with memory impairments. By utilizing mobile cognitive tests to evaluate cognition in the context of different daily-life variables, personalized intervention strategies can be developed. 

Diagnosing MCI

A diagnosis of MCI requires clinically-significant impairment in one or more cognitive domains. Memory impairment indicates a common subtype of MCI called amnestic MCI. MCI can also occur without memory impairments, and there are many different subtypes of MCI. If you or a loved one has concerns about your cognitive functioning, it is important to consult a doctor for an accurate diagnosis.