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Adding screening for cognitive difficulties could help millions, say USC Dornsife researchers. (Composite: Letty Avila. Image source: iStock.)

Missed diagnosis: The hidden crisis of mild cognitive impairment in America

Two new USC Dornsife studies suggest that of the 8 million Americans who have MCI, more than 90% don’t know it — an especially worrisome finding since early diagnosis is key to delaying onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
ByKatharine Gammon

After moving back to Oceanside, Calif., Jean Bland looked forward to reconnecting with the familiar streets of her youth. But not long after settling in, her husband Mike noticed that Jean, with whom he’d shared 41 years of marriage, would occasionally find herself lost in the very places she once knew so well. Initially concerned, he dismissed it as a common sign of aging.

Jean, 79, a former nurse known for her meticulous nature and attention to detail, always came prepared to her doctor’s appointments, armed with a litany of questions and notes. So, when she walked into the exam room two years ago without any list and displayed signs of forgetfulness, it raised eyebrows. Her physician, sensing something wasn’t right, recommended a series of tests, including an extensive verbal examination.

The diagnosis revealed that Jean had mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a condition often linked to Alzheimer’s disease. While the news was daunting, it also presented her with a silver lining: the opportunity to take proactive measures, including a new drug — which is only effective when cognitive impairment is mild — to potentially slow the disease’s progression. More than 7 million other Americans, unaware of their condition, aren’t as fortunate.

Two studies from the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences reveal that MCI is alarmingly under-diagnosed, with approximately 7.4 million unknowingly living with the condition. Even more startling, half of these individuals are silently battling Alzheimer’s disease.

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