Men may be at greater risk of developing mild cognitive impairment than women, according to a new study published in the journal Neurology.

The study followed about 1,450 residents of Olmsted County, Minn., between the ages of 70 and 89 that were dementia free. For three years participants took a memory test every 15 months. At the end of the study 296 of the subjects developed mild cognitive impairment (MCI) – the stage between normal memory loss associated with age and dementia.

“These results are surprising, given that women generally have higher rates of dementia than men,” said lead study author Rosebud Roberts, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., in a statement. “This is disturbing given that people are living longer, and MCI may have a large impact on health care costs if increased efforts at prevention are not used to reduce the risk.”

The average number of new cases of dementia each year was found to be higher in men — presenting in 72 per 1,000 men in comparison to 57 in 1,000 women. It was also found that MCI was more common at a rate of 38 per 1,000 people when accompanied by memory loss than those that developed MCI without memory loss, which was found in 15 per 1,000 people.

Participants who were unmarried and had a lower level of education had higher rates of MCI as well.

“Men need to make efforts to reduce their chances of havign risk factors for MCI starting at an early age; these risk factors include obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol levels,” she said in an email statement to the TheCheckup. “If they already have these conditions, they should see their doctor on a regular basis to ensure that the conditions are adequately controlled. They should also exercise on a regular basis.”

Roberts found that 12 percent of the newly diagnosed MCI cases every year were tested and found to be free of MCI at least once. Some were even found to be “cognitively normal.” Roberts, however, found that 88 percent of people who received a MCI diagnosis will continue to have MCI and often develop dementia.

“There is no single test for MCI, but if a person is concerned about early memory loss, they should talk to their doctor to make sure what they are experiencing is beyond what is normal for their age and level of education,” she said.

“The doctor may then refer them for further tests of their memory and thinking skills,” she added.

There is currently no established medical treatment for MCI. However, it is best for a person to discuss options with their family doctor or a neurologist for strategies to prevent further decline.

“There are suggestions that being socially involved in such interactions with friends and family like going to church, movies, keeping your brain stimulated through reading and using the computer may be beneficial,” Roberts said. “A healthy diet has also been suggested to be beneficial in preventing MCI, but we do not have evidence on whether it may prevent further decline or improve symptoms in people who already have MCI.”

Individuals concerned about mild cognitive impairment should look out for:

  • early memory loss
  • poor judgment and decision making
  • problems making financial decisions
  • forgetting appointments and names of close relatives
  • decreased interest in social activities
  • problems finding words during conversations


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