Mild cognitive impairment versus normal memory loss associated with aging

Mild cognitive impairment versus normal memory loss associated with aging

January 08, 2021

Written by Professor John Nolan, PhD School of Health Science - Nutrition Research Centre Ireland

Mild cognitive impairment versus normal memory loss associated with aging: How do I know the difference and what should I do?

I am now middle aged and notice that I experience memory loss and forgetfulness more frequently than in my younger years. Why did I go upstairs? What level in the parking lot did I park my car? What are the items that my wife Jane asked me to get in the shop?  

Are these types of memory confusions a normal part of aging or do I have something more to worry about? What is the difference between normal age-related forgetfulness and a serious memory problem? Is there something I should do support my cognitive (brain) function throughout my life?  So many questions, but the good news is that we have the information (from science) that can answer these questions and help us support our brain health and function.  

Serious memory problems make it hard to do everyday things like driving and shopping. Signs of this type of memory loss include: Repeating the same questions over and over again; Getting lost in familiar places; Becoming confused about time, people, and places. Some older adults have a condition called mild cognitive impairment, known as MCI for short. MCI is recognized as a decline in cognitive (brain) function that is worse than normal for an individual of a particular age and education level. An individual with MCI is still able to function and perform daily activities, go to work, drive a car, however, they do experience problems with memory, language, thinking and/or judgment. MCI is often a transitional phase to very early dementia, but the diagnose of MCI is complicated by the many classifications that have been developed for the condition. For example, MCI may be single domain, known as amnestic, where the individual experience difficulties with memory only. MCI may also occur in brain functions other than memory (e.g. language, attention), and this is known as non-amnestic MCI. In situations where the issues present in more than one brain function, this is known as multi-domain amnestic MCI. As explained above, MCI may be an early sign of Alzheimer's disease, but not everyone with MCI will develop Alzheimer's disease. 

So how can nutrition help with all this? Let’s see what the science has shown, in order of discovery:

1. Protective nutrients are stored in the brain.[1]

It is known that specific dietary-derived compounds “carotenoids” and omega-3 fatty acids (ω-3FAs) selectively accumulate in brain tissue where they are positioned to reduce oxidative stress and neuro-inflammation. Of note, we also know that oxidative stress and inflammation cause Alzheimer’s disease. Carotenoids are plant-based pigments that contain powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and omega-3 fatty acids are the building blocks required to support the cells in the brain.

2. Optimized levels of these brain nutrients are related to better brain function.[2]

Individuals with high carotenoid brain concentrations perform significantly better when compared to individuals with low carotenoid brain concentrations of the same age in terms of cognitive function. In other words, they have better memory, attention and processing skills.

3. Healthy individuals can benefit.[3]

Cognitively healthy individuals that are supplemented with a specific formulation of carotenoids found in Memory Health demonstrated improvements in cognitive (brain) function when compared to individuals that received a placebo (a supplement containing no active carotenoids or omega-3 fatty acids).

4. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease are lacking carotenoids.[4]

Patients with Alzheimer’s disease are significantly deficient in in brain carotenoid levels compared to aged-matched controls.

5. Patients with Alzheimer’s disease can benefit.[5, 6]

Patients with Alzheimer’s disease that were supplemented with Memory Health® (the patented carotenoid and omega-3 formulation) experienced positive outcomes, with caregivers reports showing improvements in functional ability, memory, sight and mood for these patients on the active supplement, Memory Health®. This important work is now being repeated in a larger trial and results are expected in the summer of 2021

6. Patients with MCI can benefit.[7]

In a recently published study, patients with MCI that were supplemented with the Memory Health® formulation demonstrated improved performance in memory and global cognition after just 12-months of targeted supplementation, when compared to a placebo-controlled group. 

Taken together, these studies highlight the importance of targeted nutritional supplementation using carotenoids and omega-3 fatty acids; however, the evidence shows that while such supplementation is beneficial for patients with Alzheimer’s disease, the true benefits of good brain nutrition/ supplementation must be utilized throughout our life and not just for patients suffering with Alzheimer’s disease. We are fortunate to live in a time where people live much longer than before. However, we can only celebrate aging if function and quality of life is maintained and supported. In addition to good nutrition and lifestyle, targeted, effective and safe supplementation is essential to achieve this goal. 


  1. Tanprasertsuk, J., et al., Serum Carotenoids, Tocopherols, Total n-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and n-6/n-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Ratio Reflect Brain Concentrations in a Cohort of Centenarians. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci, 2018. 
  2. Feeney, J., et al., Low macular pigment optical density is associated with lower cognitive performance in a large, population-based sample of older adults. Neurobiol. Aging, 2013. 34(11): p. 2449-2456. 
  3. Power, R., et al., Supplemental Retinal Carotenoids Enhance Memory in Healthy Individuals with Low Levels of Macular Pigment in A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. J Alzheimers Dis, 2018. 61(3): p. 947-961.
  4.  Nolan, J., et al., Macular Pigment, Visual Function, and Macular Disease among Subjects with Alzheimer's Disease: An Exploratory Study. Vol. 42. 2014a. 
  5. Nolan, J.M., et al., The impact of supplemental macular carotenoids in Alzheimer's disease: a randomized clinical trial. J Alzheimers Dis, 2015. 44(4): p. 1157-69. 
  6. Nolan, J.M., et al., Nutritional Intervention to Prevent Alzheimer's Disease: Potential Benefits of Xanthophyll Carotenoids and Omega-3 Fatty Acids Combined. J Alzheimers Dis, 2018. 64(2): p. 367-378. 
  7. Power, R., et al., Targeted Nutritional Intervention for Patients with Mild Cognitive Impairment: The Cognitive impAiRmEnt Study (CARES) Trial 1. J Pers Med, 2020. 10(2).

The Gold Standard of Brain Supplements

Memory Health® was tested and proven in double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials, becoming the first supplement to receive a patent for the prevention and treatment of neurodegenerative disease, specifically Alzheimer's and dementia. It has been clinically proven to improve cognitive functions and memory.  Other tested benefits include improvement in sight, focus, clarity, and mood.

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