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Dement Geriatr Cogn Disord. 2008;26(2):187-92. doi: 10.1159/000151635. Epub 2008 Aug 23.

Clinical features of mild cognitive impairment differ in the research and tertiary clinic settings.

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Department of Neurology, University of Kentucky College of Medicine, Lexington, KY, USA.



Comparative analysis of subjects with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) diagnosed in a primary research setting and those seen in a tertiary care memory disorders clinic.


Subjects who received a diagnosis of MCI between July 1, 2005, and December 31, 2006, in a longitudinal research study of normal cognition (n = 48) and patients diagnosed in a tertiary care referral clinic (n = 34) were evaluated using similar methodologies. Comparative analyses of detailed medical, neurological and neuropsychological data are presented.


The diagnosis of MCI was not accepted by 13 of 48 subjects (27%) classified as MCI in the primary research setting. Nondegenerative, potentially treatable causes of cognitive decline were found in 3 of 34 subjects (9%) seen in the tertiary referral clinic and in 11 of 35 subjects (31%) identified as MCI in the primary research setting (p = 0.02, Fisher's exact test). MCI subjects identified in the primary research setting were older than those referred to the memory clinic (mean +/- SD, 79.7 +/- 7.0 vs. 71.5 +/- 9.0 years, p < 0.0001, t test) and had more years of education (16.0 +/- 3.2 vs. 13.6 +/- 4.2 years, p < 0.01, t test). MCI subjects in the primary research setting appeared to be in a milder stage of disease, characterized by higher Mini-Mental State Examination scores (28.2 +/- 1.8 vs. 25.7 +/- 1.8, p < 0.0001), and a tendency towards single domain involvement, predominantly memory (mean number of domains involved, 1.0 vs. 2.5, p < 0.0001). More advanced stages of MCI, seen in the tertiary referral population, had additional involvement of attention (p < 0.0001, Fisher's exact test) and visuospatial domains (p < 0.0002, Fisher's exact test). Semiquantitative grading of hippocampal and medial temporal lobe atrophy did not differ between groups (p = 0.81, Mann-Whitney U test).


The diagnosis of MCI may be unwelcome in naïve persons. Remedial causes of MCI should be actively investigated. Demographic and clinical characteristics of MCI differ between research subjects and patients referred to a tertiary care clinic.

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