Mild cognitive impairment 'treatable' with regular exercise, say experts

The American Academy of Neurology have updated their clinical practice guidelines for the care of people with mild cognitive impairment to recommend that they take regular exercise.

The guidelines were updated after a systematic review of published scientific evidence on mild cognitive impairment (MCI) by an American Academy of Neurology (AAN) expert panel.

In reporting their recent findings in the journal Neurology, the AAN panel say that while there is no "high-quality evidence" that supports the treatment of MCI using drugs, regular exercise training may improve "cognitive measures."

The risk of developing MCI, a medical condition associated with problems with memory and thinking, rises with age.

MCI often precedes dementia

There is strong evidence to suggest that MCI can progress to dementia, though not everyone who has MCI will go on to develop dementia.

The AAN say that people aged 65 and over who have MCI have a 7.5 percent risk of developing dementia during the first year after diagnosis. By the third year, the total risk rises to about 20 percent.

Those with MCI have a milder form of some symptoms seen in people with dementia. For instance, they may struggle to finish complex tasks and fully grasp information that they have read.

By contrast, people with dementia struggle with tasks that are key to independent living, such as eating, bathing, and getting dressed.

The updated AAN guideline — which is endorsed by the Alzheimer's Association — states that, as long as the condition "is not linked to a disease of the brain cells that gets worse over time," MCI can be treatable.

'Physically and mentally active'

The guideline says that while that there is no evidence that approved drugs or dietary changes can treat MCI, patients "should be physically and mentally active" and ought to undergo regular checks for symptoms of dementia.

"Because MCI may progress to dementia," says lead guideline author and Fellow of the AAN Dr. Ronald C. Petersen, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, "it is particularly important that MCI is diagnosed early."

He also explains that sometimes, symptoms that may present similar to MCI are due to other treatable causes, such as depression, the side effects of medication, or disturbed sleep.

"It is important to meet with your doctor to determine the root cause," he urges, adding, "Early action may keep memory problems from getting worse."

The new guideline says that clinicians should recommend that people with MCI engage in regular exercise as part of an overall program for managing their symptoms. Studies that have followed people with MCI for 6 months have demonstrated that exercising twice per week can improve memory.

"It's exciting that exercise may help improve memory at this stage as it's something most people can do and of course it has overall health benefits."

Dr. Ronald C. Petersen

The guideline also advises that doctors may recommend cognitive training for individuals with MCI, although the panel only found weak evidence of its benefits.