Need a Memory Boost? Doctors May Prescribe Jumping Jacks

Exercise as a help for mild cognitive impairment
Need a Memory Boost? Doctors May Prescribe Jumping Jacks

Forgetting things. Conversations and promises you don’t remember having or making. Talk to your doctor about memory lapses, and the proposed treatment may surprise you. You may receive advice to take more walks or to sign up for an exercise class.

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Today, there are new medical guidelines for treating those with a case of forgetfulness, or what is formally diagnosed as mild cognitive impairment.

The approach has shifted, and it has more to do with the body than the mind. What researchers have found is that keeping your body healthy through exercise can help keep your mind sharp too.

How much exercise?

The new guidelines come from the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) and help doctors treat people with neurological issues.

If you have mild cognitive impairment, the guidelines suggest exercising at least twice a week. This helps your overall health (not just your memory) at a low risk, the guidelines say.

Neurologist Alexander Rae-Grant, MD, actually advises his patients to exercise three times a week, for 40 minutes. Choose whatever aerobic or resistance activity you enjoy.

Symptoms of mild cognitive impairment

When should you suspect that you have mild cognitive impairment? Just as the name implies, the signs and symptoms of MCI are mild and may include:

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  • Decline in memory and thinking skills
  • Trouble remembering appointments
  • Difficulty recalling some conversations

At the same time, day-to-day functioning is relatively normal; you can drive, cook, pay bills and perform other tasks, but you may increasingly rely on notes and reminders from other people.

MCI is most common in people over age 55. By age 65, approximately 15 to 20 percent of the population shows signs of MCI, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

They are at greater risk of developing dementia, but some people don’t progress beyond a mild state of forgetfulness, Dr. Rae-Grant says.

Diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment

“Usually patients or their families bring memory lapse problems to our attention,” Dr. Rae-Grant says.

To make a diagnosis, your doctor likely will perform what is known as a mental bedside test — typically a 10- to 20-minute screening test called Montreal Cognitive Assessment or MoCA.

Depending on test results, your loved one’s symptoms, and patient and family concerns, your doctor may:

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  • Schedule a follow-up appointment in six months
  • Order blood tests to rule out another condition that could affect memory loss
  • Order an brain imaging scan
  • Refer your loved one to a memory clinic

No medication for mild cognitive impairment

There are no FDA-approved medications for treating MCI.

Memory-enhancing drugs such as cholinesterase inhibitors may benefit some who have dementia. But they also come with possible gastrointestinal and cardiac side effects.

Studies have not found benefits in prescribing these drugs to those with MCI. But the guidelines now say doctors could offer these inhibitors — as long as they counsel patients that there is no proven benefit.

Dr. Rae-Grant says neurologists hope that future guidelines may shed light on what individual risk factors of MCI may lead to dementia. This would help researchers tailor MCI medications.

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