Prevalence of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) was considerably higher than expected by a team of Mayo Clinic researchers studying a population-based sample of elderly men and women.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, MCI is the term used to describe the intermediate state between normal aging and the very earliest features of Alzheimer’s disease. People with MCI are much more likely than the general population to develop Alzheimer’s. MCI is characterized by ongoing memory problems but not by confusion, attention problems, or language difficulties. Its frequency in the population is not known.

In a longitudinal study involving 1,786 individuals aged 70-89 years, Ronald C. Petersen, MD, PhD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and fellow investigators evaluated the participants every 15 months after the October 2004 enrollment date. They found that MCI developed at an annual rate of approximately 5.3%. The rate climbed to 7.2% among those aged 80-89 years but fell to about 3.5% for younger participants (aged 70-79 years). Men were nearly twice as likely as women to develop MCI.

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“The rate of new MCI cases in this group was considerably higher than anticipated,” pointed out Dr. Petersen in a statement from the Alzheimer’s Association announcing the study results.