Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a type of age-related cognitive decline that is more severe than the conditions of normal aging, but not severe enough to be considered dementia. MCI does not mean you will develop dementia, but it does greatly increase the chances of dementia. About 20 percent of people with MCI develop dementia within three years of diagnosis. About 80 percent of people with a subtype of MCI called amnestic MCI develop Alzheimer’s within seven years. If you’ve been diagnosed with MCI, it’s easy to feel scared about an uncertain future. Here’s what you need to know.

Now Is a Great Time to Plan

It may not seem like it, but your diagnosis of MCI is actually a gift. Many people suddenly get sick without advance warning or display symptoms of dementia for years before they get a proper diagnosis. Knowing you have MCI gives you a chance to think about what you want for your future. Consider the following:

  • Where do you want to live if you need assistance?
  • Whom would you like to make decisions for you?
  • What guiding principles would you like your loved ones to use to make decisions on your behalf if you are no longer able to?
  • Would moving now make you feel safer or more secure?
  • What would you do now if you knew you might have dementia in a few years?
  • How do you want your assets managed, and whom would you trust to pay your bills?
  • Do you have a will? Whom do you want to get your money or your house if you die?
  • Do you have a living will that dictates what you would like to happen if you are very ill or near death?

These can be difficult topics to discuss. They are even more difficult to talk about if your kids or grandkids are stuck making the decisions with no idea of what you would want. Ease the burden and get a plan in place. This ensures that you’ll have good care and your loved ones will know how to honor your wishes.

There Are Things You Can Do to Protect Your Health

No single strategy can prevent dementia, but there are some things you can do to reduce your risk of dementia when you have MCI:

  • Adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle. Cardiovascular disease can increase your risk of dementia. Get plenty of exercise and eat a wide range of nutrient-dense foods.
  • Manage any chronic conditions, such as diabetes. Schedule a physical and ask your doctor about medication and lifestyle changes to get into better health.

Get more involved in the world around you. Seniors who are socially engaged are less likely to develop dementia. Isolation and loneliness correlate to a host of other maladies. A walk with a friend or a meeting at your local rotary club may be ingredients in the recipe for prolonging your life.

Dementia Is Not the End

No matter what you do, you might still get dementia. Living with that uncertainty can be difficult. Remember, though, that life serves a steady helping of uncertainty. You could get into a car wreck, or get cancer, or lose your savings. Worrying about what you cannot control will not give you more control, and it won’t make you happy. So find ways to redirect your attention to the present moment. It is all anyone is guaranteed.

Dementia is not the end of a meaningful life. People can live long and happily even with Alzheimer’s and related conditions. A little planning now improves your chances for a brighter tomorrow. You can find a community you love, talk to your children about what you need, and make sure the people you love the most know how much you love them.

Spend some time now thinking about what your next chapter looks like, with and without dementia. For more help comparing options, download our free e-book, “The Caregiver’s Complete Guide to Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care.”

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