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Editorial: Slipping away in old age

Alzheimer’s disease may be the most feared ailment of old age, followed closely by other forms of dementia. But did you know there is a pre-dementia condition called mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, that has become epidemic in the United States?
MCI falls somewhere between normal memory loss and Alzheimer’s Disease. People with this condition might still be able to drive, make everyday decisions and carry on a normal conversation, but family and friends notice memory slips that worry them. Red flags include forgetting appointments, forgetting things one tried to remember and forgetting things one used to remember effortlessly.
They have reason to be concerned. People with MCI are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s, though not all do. The best way to determine if this is normal forgetfulness or a sign of trouble is to have a professional assessment.
Mayo Clinic scientists estimate there are nearly 1 million new MCI cases a year in people over 70. Researchers collected data on 1,786 people between the ages of 70 and 89, all of whom were cognitively normal when the study began in 2004. After a year, 5.3 percent had developed MCI. The rate rose with age; some 7.2 percent of the test subjects between 80 and 89 developed the condition.
This does not bode well for today’s seniors and the Baby Boomers headed into retirement ó or the people who will care for them. The need to develop better treatments and a cure for dementia gets more urgent by the day. While death rates for cancer, heart disease and other common ailments decrease, the rate for Alzheimer’s is up. Meanwhile, life expectancy in the United States has reached 78.1 years, the highest ever. The quality of life for millions of people in their senior years hinges on scientific research that cannot progress fast enough.

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