Losing your keys, forgetting a name, or missing an appointment—it happens to all of us and it can happen more frequently as we get older.  A certain amount of memory loss is normal as we age but some patients can experience memory loss that is greater than expected. These patients may be suffering from a condition called mild cognitive impairment (MCI).  Patients with MCI can live independently, unlike patients with dementia (severe loss of mental function), however, medical researchers are learning that MCI may be a warning sign of more serious illness.

Memory loss is normal as we age but sometimes it can indicate serious illness.

Several studies have found that patients with MCI have an increased risk of developing dementia.  Nearly 60% of patients with MCI develop Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia.  After being diagnosed with MCI, through a series of memory tests, patients can undergo genetic evaluation and specialized exams estimate the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease; however, it can be difficult for doctors to easily explain the test results to patients and their families.

Recently, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital announced a new study called the Risk Evaluation and Education for Alzheimer’s Disease Study (REVEAL).  The study’s goal is to learn how to communicate the results of genetic testing and Alzheimer’s risk estimates to MCI patients and their families so that they can gain a better understanding of what it means to have MCI, what are the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease, and how to cope with problems related to memory loss.

“We expect that the REVEAL study will provide accurate guidance for estimating and communicating risk information to individuals, and we hope that results from REVEAL will inform the future practice of treating individuals at risk for Alzheimer’s disease,” said  Dr. Robert C. Green,  a physician scientist in the Division of Genetics at BWH.

Improved understanding of Alzheimer’s risk information can provide patients and their families the time they need to make plans and arrange for care.   More information about MCI and how it is diagnosed is available at the BWH Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment.

- Jamie R.

 

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