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Difference Between Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer’s

 If you have noticed changes in your cognitive abilities, it can be frightening. With Alzheimer’s rates at an all-time high, these changes can be overwhelming. Although cognitive decline is common within the elderly population, it’s believed that many whom are diagnosed with mild Alzheimer’s, may actually be suffering from mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

There are most certainly some overlapping features between MCI and Alzheimer’s, however, developing MCI does not automatically mean dementia or Alzheimer’s will follow. As we age, it’s normal to forget minor details, it’s a part of the aging process. Once cognitive impairments become more severe than what’s normal based on age and education, this is when MCI should be considered.

So, how does MCI differ from Alzheimer’s? If so many are potentially misdiagnosed, these two conditions have to similar, right? The following clearly defines both MCI and Alzheimer’s, allowing you to pinpoint key differences.

The Difference Between MCI and Alzheimer’s

Before we compare, let’s define both MCI and Alzheimer’s –

  • Mild cognitive impairment means that an individual is suffering from mild cognitive impairments, which are greater than the changes associated with the normal aging process. Symptoms may include impairments in memory, judgement, thinking, and language.
  • Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease which causes mental deterioration. As the brain deteriorates, significant changes are experienced – both in terms of cognition and behavior.

Why this becomes so confusing, is that MCI overlaps with both normal-age related cognitive impairments and the onset of Alzheimer’s. Remember, not everyone who suffers from MCI will develop Alzheimer’s, but those who are eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer’s first suffer from MCI.

For those that truly suffer from MCI and not the onset of Alzheimer’s, they will not experience the same progressive symptoms. In fact, many individuals will not experience worsening symptoms and in some cases, recover. Of course, those with Alzheimer’s, will continually get worse until they reach the late stages of their disease. Alzheimer’s will most certainly progress, whereas MCI may not.

The main difference is the degree of cognitive impairment and decline. Those with MCI most certainly display impairments, however, they are not as severe as someone who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. Also, those with MCI are able to take part in day-to-day activities, which isn’t the case for those with Alzheimer’s. Personality changes are also prevalent within Alzheimer’s patients, which is not the case for those with MCI.

It’s important to remember, there are still a number of unknown factors regarding both MCI and Alzheimer’s. Although research has come so far, there are still many areas we do not understand – such as the exact cause of MCI and late-onset Alzheimer’s. This information will be key in order to understand why some individuals with MCI develop dementia, while others do not.


Alzheimer’s Foundation. (2015). Mild Cognitive Impairment and Early Alzheimer’s Disease. Research and Prevention. Retrieved from http://www.alzheimersprevention.org/downloadables/MCI_web.pdf


Lunde, A. (2012). Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and MCI Overlap, but Have Different Meanings. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alzheimers-disease/expert-blog/dementia-definitions/bgp-20055922


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