Mild Cognitive Impairment

Dr. Nicole Anderson

A tricky-to-diagnose condition that challenges even the most experienced clinicians. Half a million Canadians aged 65-and-older have it, but many don’t know it.
It may lead to Alzheimer’s, but not always.

Leading experts in Toronto for conference

Toronto, March 19, 2012 – Top dementia experts and cognitive scientists focusing on memory loss from Canada and the U.S. are in Toronto March 26 – 28 to discuss the latest clinical and scientific advancements for diagnosing and treating Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), considered a risk marker for converting to Alzheimer’s disease within a few years.

Dr. Tiffany Chow

Researchers, healthcare professionals and academia will meet for three days of clinical workshops and scientific presentations at Baycrest’s Annual Conference on Cognitive Neuroscience at the Four Seasons Hotel in downtown Toronto.

MCI is considered a transition stage or border zone between mild cognitive changes associated with normal aging and more serious cognitive problems caused by an underlying dementia such as Alzheimer’s. It is estimated that half-a-million Canadians aged 65-and-older have MCI, but many don’t know it because only a small percentage have pursued a clinical diagnosis. Not all MCI sufferers will convert to Alzheimer’s – some will stabilize and others may even improve in their cognitive powers.

“It’s not easy for even the most experienced clinician to tell with certainty whether the memory changes in a patient are related to very early MCI or simply due to normal aging,” says conference co-chair Dr. Nicole Anderson, a clinical neuropsychologist and scientist at Baycrest, and co-author of a new book on MCI, due for release this summer.

What is amnestic MCI?
What types of testing will the doctor do on me?

People with MCI are typically still able to work and engage in normal social activities. Their memory problems and difficulties with attention and reasoning are much less severe at this stage compared to a more advanced clinical dementia. As with all dementia screening, doctors have to rule out a myriad of other factors that may be responsible for changes in a patient’s cognition, such as depression, diabetes, stress, insomnia medication side effects, and the presence of vascular dementia (due to subtle mini strokes), and be familiar with the latest diagnostic criteria for MCI, in order to tease out an accurate diagnosis.

Ten to 15% of individuals with MCI will progress to dementia within the first year, and about 50% will develop dementia within five years. But the fuzzy borders between normal and MCI status and MCI and dementia status, along with inconsistency in the level of familiarity general physicians have with MCI diagnostic criteria, remain barriers for identifying those with early-stage dementia such as MCI.

In addition, Dr. Anderson says false positive rates are high because a person’s cognitive status can fluctuate – a person can test positive for MCI after taking a full battery of cognitive screening tests one time, but then test normal a year later. This is why longitudinal testing, rather than one-time testing, is recommended, but it can be time consuming and there aren’t enough resources for everyone with MCI to get helpful neuropsychological testing.

“We are getting better at identifying which people with MCI will convert to Alzheimer’s,” says conference co-chair Dr Tiffany Chow, a clinician-scientist at Baycrest’s Sam and Ida Ross Memory Clinic. “We know our best shot at delaying cognitive deterioration is to start treatments at the asymptomatic or mild symptomatic stages. This is why education and awareness is so critical. We strongly encourage people to see their doctor as soon as they start experiencing memory issues that don’t seem normal. We encourage family doctors to become familiar with MCI diagnostic criteria.”

To help people aged 40-to-80 get a clearer read on whether the memory problems they’re experiencing require a visit to see the doctor, Baycrest, in partnership with ZoomerMedia Limited, is developing an online cognitive screening test for the “worried well” to do from the comfort of their own home. The test will provide people with an instant report that tells them whether they should visit their doctor or not.

Evidence-based therapeutic interventions are now available to help delay or slow down cognitive decline so people with MCI can maintain a full and active life for as long as possible. Day One of the conference (March 26) will feature afternoon workshops on exercise interventions, pharmaceuticals, a memory intervention program, and exciting early evidence on the potential benefits of cognitive behavioural therapy for not only alleviating depressive mood symptoms but improving cognitive health.

Keynote speakers at the conference include leading experts in the cognitive neuroscience and clinical diagnosis of MCI. They include: Dr. Marilyn Albert, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine; Dr. David Knopman, Mayo Clinic, Minnesota; and Dr. Howard Chertkow, The Bloomfield Centre for Research in Aging, McGill University.

About Baycrest

Headquartered on a 22-acre campus in Toronto and fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, Baycrest is a global leader in developing and providing innovations in aging and brain health.

For more information on this press release, or to receive the press kit ahead of the conference, please contact:

Kelly Connelly
Senior Media Officer
Office: 416-785-2432
Blackberry at conference: 416-882-5307