Is It Dementia or Mild Cognitive Impairment?

Mature African-American couple sitting on couch

One of the big health-related headlines this fall was the finding that almost 10% of U.S. adults age 65 and older have dementia, while another 22% have mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

The study included nearly 3,500 individuals nationwide. It found that rates of dementia and mild cognitive impairment rose sharply with age: 3% of people between 65 and 69 had dementia, rising to 35% for people age 90 and over.

“With increasing longevity and the aging of the Baby Boom generation, cognitive impairment is projected to increase significantly over the next few decades,” said Jennifer J. Manly, PhD, the study’s lead author and professor of neuropsychology in neurology at Columbia University.

The results also show a disproportionate burden of:

  • Dementia among older adults who self-identify as Black or African American.
  • Mild cognitive impairment among older adults who identify as Hispanic.
  • Both categories of cognitive impairment among people who had fewer opportunities to obtain education.

“Dementia research in general has largely focused on college-educated people who are racialized as white,” said Manly. “This study is representative of the population of older adults and includes groups that have been historically excluded from dementia research but are at higher risk of developing cognitive impairment because of structural racism and income inequality.”

Dementia vs. mild cognitive impairment

Dementia is characterized by cognitive difficulties that begin in adulthood and affect a person’s ability to independently perform everyday activities. Mild cognitive impairment is a classification assigned to people who are thought to be transitioning between normal aging and dementia, but not everyone who has mild cognitive impairment will go on to develop dementia.

If you’re concerned about symptoms you or a loved one are experiencing, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides the chart below.

The cognitive decline of a family member due to Alzheimer’s disease or other related dementia is one of life’s most difficult and troubling events. At LifeCare Advocates, we guide and support you through every step of the difficult challenges of dementia care. Learn more about our memory care services.


Chart showing differences between normal aging, mild cognitive impairment, and dementia.