Mild cognitive impairment or MCI is a condition where people experience memory and thinking problems. It is not a type of dementia but for some people it can lead to the development of diseases like Alzheimer’s.

What is Mild cognitive impairment?

Mild- not severe.

Cognitive- mental functions involved in thinking, planning, and understanding.

Impairment- not working as well as it should.

We may notice a natural decline in our memory and thinking as we get older. But for a person with MCI, memory and thinking problems are worse than we would expect for their age. Unlike dementia, these problems may not get in the way of a person’s day-to-day life.

Research has suggested that one or two people in every 10 over the age of 65 have MCI. But because the condition isn’t always diagnosed it is difficult to know exactly how many people are affected.

What causes mild cognitive impairment?

MCI can be caused by a range of conditions or existing health problems. This means for some people with MCI their memory and thinking problems stay the same, and for others they may get worse over time. MCI does not necessarily lead to dementia because it can be caused by other conditions.

Causes of MCI:

  • depression, stress, and anxiety
  • vitamin deficiencies
  • thyroid disorders
  • autoimmune conditions
  • infections
  • side effects from medication
  • sleep disorders like sleep apnoea
  • early stages of Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia.

It is important to know what it is causing a person’s MCI, whether it is a symptom of a condition like those mentioned above, or the early stages of dementia.

Does MCI lead to dementia?

The word dementia describes a group of symptoms that can affect a person’s ability to carry out daily activities. It is caused by diseases, with Alzheimer’s being the most common cause. Dementia symptoms include memory problems, confusion, communication difficulties and mood changes. A person with dementia will usually have at least two of these symptoms, which are noticeable and get worse over time.

In comparison to dementia, someone with MCI has mild symptoms and may not be affected in so many ways. This means someone with MCI is usually able to work, drive and manage day to day responsibilities safely and without support from other people. Whereas dementia gets in the way of everyday life.

Research has found that having MCI raises your risk of developing dementia in the future, but this often depends on the underlying cause.

Every year, about 1 in 10 people who have been diagnosed with MCI develop dementia. For half of people with MCI their symptoms do not get worse, or get better. For those who do go on to develop dementia, the time this takes can vary from one person to another.

Have you or a loved one been diagnosed with MCI?

If you have been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment and would like to share your story to inspire others or help shape our work please get in touch via

What is mild cognitive impairment?

This introductory leaflet aims to help you understand mild cognitive impairment. It’s for anyone who might be worried about their own or someone else’s memory.

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This information was updated in November 2021 and is due to be reviewed in November 2023. It was written by Alzheimer’s Research UK’s Information Services team with input from lay and expert reviewers.

Our information does not replace advice that doctors, pharmacists, or nurses may give you.


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