Doctors call for new ways of approaching early changes to memory and thinking
For many people with early memory and thinking problems it can be a worrying time. Not only must they come to terms and cope with life with their symptoms, but they must also wait and see whether their memory and thinking gets progressively worse.
Around seven years ago, Jaz Kenyon became increasingly bothered that she was forgetting things.
At the time, Jaz was still working in the job she had been doing 13 years. Yet she was getting concerned that she “just couldn’t remember, quite specific things” that she used to be able to do.
Worried about her symptoms Jaz sought the view of a doctor, who later diagnosed her with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).
So, what is MCI?
MCI is a condition that is not often talked about. It is the name given to a change in someone’s memory or thinking that is noticeable, and measurable, but doesn’t always get worse and does not interfere with activities of daily life.
Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Chief Medical Officer, Prof Jon Schott, explains that: “MCI is an umbrella term describing several symptoms and can be caused by a number of different underlying diseases.”
MCI is different to dementia, which describes a group of symptoms that can affect a person’s ability to carry out daily activities. Yet of 100 people living with MCI, about 10 to 15 will develop dementia each year.
Prof Schott thinks it is important that we try and identify those who will and those who will not progress to be able to offer appropriate treatment and advice.
Getting a diagnosis of MCI
For Jaz, getting a diagnosis of MCI “was a lot of relief”. She now attends Age UK Trafford’s Blossom Out group which is a group of people with MCI who meet weekly.
“I think we find it helpful to be in a community that know what we’re talking about” said Jaz, “they can relate.”
“MCI is one of those things that you don’t hear about unless you know someone with it.”
Yet, even amongst experts there’s little consensus on how to detect MCI.
Unlike cancers, doctors do not use biological markers from blood, brain, or spinal fluids to help give an individual diagnosis.
Now, alongside top experts, we have helped compile a new report with recommendations that aim to ensure that people with MCI receive the same treatment, wherever they are in the country.
So, what do we suggest?
The new report lays out three key areas to consider when we think and deal with MCI.
The three suggestions are:
- MCI should be recognised as a clinical condition that’s caused by different underlying diseases.
- Doctors should try their best to provide patients with an explanation for their symptoms. This may vary from patient to patient, but in many cases it may be appropriate to use scans, lumbar punctures and other tests to try and make as accurate and early a diagnosis as possible.
- There should be national guidance on dealing with MCI for doctors and the patients they treat. This would help support people across the UK experiencing symptoms, creating consistency in how MCI is diagnosed and accelerate research into better treatments.
The experts also recommend that those with MCI should be routinely offered the opportunity to participate in clinical trials and other research studies.
Jaz is one such volunteer in a service called Join Dementia Research. Through this service, she has taken part in research studies where she has had brain scans, which aim to shed more light on MCI.
By letting all those with MCI know about the service, even more people would be enabled to get involved in research that could perhaps benefit them and others.
Volunteers, both with and without dementia, taking part in research studies play an essential role in helping scientists and doctors to understand diseases and test potential new treatments.
So, what’s next?
Any future dementia treatments are likely to need to be given early in the disease process, making a strategy for dealing with all forms of MCI even more important.
Prof Schott agrees and says:
“Identifying patients with MCI and determining its underlying cause will become even more pressing as and when new treatments for specific forms of dementia become available.”
“We urgently need to prepare the healthcare system for any future changes in the treatment landscape, and this must include our approach to dealing with MCI.”
At Alzheimer’s Research UK, we are committed to continuing work in this space to make a real difference to the lives of people living with MCI.
If you have general questions about MCI or dementia, want to know more about this report or how you and your loved ones can get involved in dementia research, our Dementia Research Infoline can help.
This article for Alzheimer’s Research UK has been made possible by Jaz Kenyon and the Age UK Trafford Service.