Mild cognitive impairment

Mild cognitive impairment affects memory and other abilities, but not as severely as dementia. One can still carry on their daily functions and routines without interruption. However, there is a higher risk of developing dementia.

Midlife woman and man on bench


People living with mild cognitive impairment (commonly referred to as MCI) have problems with memory, language, thinking or judgement that are greater than the cognitive changes associated with normal aging. As its name implies, the problems experienced are considered mild – not as severe as the symptoms experienced by a person living with dementia.

The cognitive changes associated with MCI are usually not serious enough to interfere with a person's daily life and independence. However, friends and the person living with MCI may notice these changes and they can be measured in tests.


A person with MCI can experience a wide range of cognitive symptoms, such as:

  • Memory problems (for the majority of people with MCI, memory is the ability most affected),
  • Impaired thinking skills,
  • Language difficulties,
  • Disorientation in time and space,
  • Poor judgement, and
  • Impaired depth perception.

MCI may increase your risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia. However, some people remain stable and others may even show an improvement in cognitive abilities over time. Not everyone diagnosed with MCI goes on to develop dementia. There is no single cause or outcome for people diagnosed with MCI.

Learn more about the differences in memory between a person living with mild cognitive impairment, a person living with dementia and a person experiencing normal age-related changes in memory.


A medical professional diagnoses MCI by evaluating a person's cognitive and behavioural changes, considering all the possible causes and talking with the person about the severity and frequency of the symptoms. There is no one specific test that can diagnose MCI. If MCI is suspected, a number of physical and cognitive tests will be performed.

A diagnosis of MCI can lead to many unanswered questions. By seeking out information, education and support, people living with MCI and family members can find practical answers to help live effectively with this condition.

Getting a diagnosis is also important because of the higher risk of dementia. If you live with MCI, consider what lifestyle factors you can change (for example, diet, exercise or stress) that can help you decrease your risk of developing dementia,

More information and resources

Living with mild cognitive impairment (MCI). brainXchange. This webinar goes over how MCI differs from normal aging and dementia, how it is diagnosed, how it impacts individuals and their families, and how it can be treated.