Conceptualization of mild cognitive impairment: a review

Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2004 Apr;19(4):313-9. doi: 10.1002/gps.1049.


Background: Several factors have prompted renewed interest in the concept of declines in cognitive function that occur in association with aging, in particular the area between normal cognition and dementia. We review the changing conceptualization of what has come to be known as mild cognitive impairment (MCI) in an effort to identify recent developments and highlight areas of controversy.

Methods: Standard MEDLINE search for relevant English-language publications on mild cognitive impairment and its associated terms, supplemented by hand searches of pertinent reference lists.

Results: Many conditions cause cognitive impairment which does not meet current criteria for dementia. Within this heterogenous group, termed 'Cognitive Impairment, No Dementia' (CIND), there are disorders associated with an increased risk of progression to dementia. Still, the conceptualization of these latter disorders remains in flux, with variability around assumptions about aging, the relationship between impairment and disease, and how concomitant functional impairment is classified. Amongst patients with MCI, especially its amnestic form, many will progress to Alzheimer's disease (AD). In contrast with clinic-based studies, where progression is more uniform, population-based studies suggest that the MCI classification is unstable in that context. In addition to Amnestic Mild Cognitive Impairment (AMCI), other syndromes exist and can progress to dementia. For example, an identifiable group with vascular cognitive impairment without dementia shows a higher risk of progression to vascular dementia, Alzheimer's disease and mixed dementia.

Conclusions: Recent attempts to profile patients at an increased risk of dementia suggest that this can be done in skilled hands, especially in people whose symptoms prompt them to seek medical attention. Whether these people actually have early AD remains to be determined. The more narrowly defined MCI profiles need to be understood in a population context of CIND.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / psychology
  • Cognition Disorders / classification
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Dementia / classification
  • Dementia / diagnosis
  • Disease Progression
  • Humans