What Causes Mild Cognitive Impairment?

Do you or a loved one suffer with mild cognitive decline (MCI), and are seeking information on how and why the condition occurs? The origin(s) of the syndrome is not yet known, and a combination of things are predicted to raise a person’s likelihood of experiencing MCI.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is defined by MedicineNet as, “a brain disorder in which thinking abilities are mildly impaired.” This is to say that those affected with this particular cognitive impairment are not hindered from leading a relatively normal life, as the condition does not impede the ability to perform tasks required to succeed on a day-to-day basis. However, memorization (amnestic) and certain thinking tasks (non-amnestic) become difficult for those with MCI. Though it is common for people who develop MCI to reach a plateau in the level of cognitive decline and remain there indefinitely, the disorder can also be one of the early signs of dementia.

What Causes Mild Cognitive Impairment?


Age is one of the primary risk factors for getting MCI, and approximately 10 to 20% of adults over the age of 65 eventually develop it, notes The Alzheimer’s Association. Older people encounter a decline in proteins that protect the brain, as well as deterioration of brain structures involved in the creation and retrieval of memories. Apart from age, cardiovascular disease, brain injury, and genetics are believed to influence the disorder, as well.

mild cognitive impairment causesCardiovascular Disease

Those who have cardiovascular problems face a higher risk of developing non-amnestic mild cognitive impairment, particularly women. In a study of over 1,000 people, half with heart disease and half without, MCI occurred in 8.8% of people with poor cardiovascular health, compared to 4.4% in healthy individuals, says Everyday Health. The heart is responsible for pumping blood to all of the body’s vital organs, which includes the brain. If the heart fails to function properly, the brain’s blood supply could suffer. In turn, nerves crucial for memory and thinking could be damaged, catalysing cognitive impairment. Non-amnestic MCI is often one of the early signs of dementia, particularly vascular dementia; which is cognitive decline caused by decreased levels of oxygen to the brain cells. Conditions that block or reduce blood flow to the brain, such as a stroke, can cause vascular dementia.

Brain Injuries and Conditions

Cognitive deficits have been linked to traumatic brain injury. Symptoms of MCI, such as difficulty with memory, executive functions, and concentration problems may occur if a person incurs damage to portions of the brain responsible for memory and thinking. The risk of brain injury may also be caused by anxiety disorders, and may worsen MCI in those who already have it by negatively impacting certain brain structures. Excessive anxiety is believed to physically alter the area of the brain that is crucial for creating memories.


Genetics are thought to partially influence a person’s chances of developing MCI, though other factors act as co-contributors. A study of 418 adults over 70 years of age showed that those who carried a gene called E4 were three times as likely to experience mild cognitive impairment, when compared to those who did not carry the gene, notes Cornell University. However, the presence of this particular gene was not linked to a higher rate of progression from MCI to dementia. The likelihood that someone with mild cognitive impairment will develop dementia is the same, regardless of if they have the E4 gene or not. This is due to the fact that E4 is only related to the initial indicators of cognitive decline (seen in MCI), but not subsequent ones associated with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

Mild cognitive impairment is a brain condition that slightly affects an individual’s memory and thinking. It occurs in older adults, and may be caused by a combination of age, cardiovascular health, brain health, and genetics. Though it does not stop a person from leading a relatively functional life, there is a potential that the disorder could be one of the early signs of dementia.

A new, non-invasive MCI treatment, called Deep Transcranial Magnetic Therapy (dTMS) has been found to alleviate symptoms. Westside Neurotherapeutics offers Los Angeles dTMS treatments for MCI. For more information, contact us by phone at 310.946.0008 or email at info@westsideneurotherapeutics.com.

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