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A difficult diagnosis

It is not easy to diagnose MCI. This is because not everyone will clearly exhibit all the signs and symptoms of the disorder, which appear gradually.

“In fact, these signs and symptoms may remain stable or improve over time. Or the condition might worsen to Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia,” Dr Kandiah says.

“There is also no specific cognitive test that you can do to confirm the diagnosis. To better assess you, your doctor might recommend that you undergo a series of tests, including psychological assessment, blood tests, brain imaging, and a neurological exam.”

But the biggest obstacle to a proper diagnosis of MCI is that memory loss, the most significant symptom of the disorder, tends to be viewed as a normal part of ageing and a sufferer may not consult a doctor.

“Many people who suffer from memory loss do not think it is necessary to seek a doctor’s opinion,” observes Dr Nagaendran Kandiah, Senior Consultant at the Department of Neurology, National Neuroscience Institute (NNI)​, a member of the SingHealth​ group. “Actually, besides MCI, memory loss might also indicate other underlying medical conditions. So it is better to get a check-up.”

Treatment and lifestyle changes to prevent further cognitive decline

There are no specific approved drugs for mild cognitive impairment. After your consultation with your doctor, based on findings from your investigations, your doctor may prescribe cholinesterase inhibitors (these are prescribed for Alzheimer’s disease) to help improve your symptoms.

At home, you can take some simple steps to prevent further cognitive decline. These include:

Challenging your brain

Take up challenging mental tasks. “Regular mental exercises can help form and retain cognitive associations,” explains Dr Kandiah. “Learning new skills such as a language or picking up a musical instrument can also help to increase brain reserve.”

Adopting a Mediterranean diet

Consider adopting a Mediterranean diet that consists of fish, vegetables, grains and nuts, with some olive oil and moderate amounts of red wine. Omega-3 fatty acids, present in fish, are great for cognitive health.

Exercising regularly

When you work out, you are channelling oxygen-rich blood to different parts of your body, including the brain. “Exercise at least three times a week,” advises Dr Kandiah. “Do a mix of aerobic activities such as jogging and stair-climbing to get your heart pumping, and balance and coordination exercises to help you stay agile.”

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