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“Would I like to have amyloid in the brain? No, not particularly but it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to become clinically demented in my lifetime,” Petersen says.

For now, diagnosing MCI requires a good medical history and standard memory tests. MCI is more than every so often losing your car keys or struggling for a word, but not serious enough to interfere with independent functioning. Worsening of episodic memory _ recalling new information _ is seen more than other types of memory loss in MCI that progresses to Alzheimer’s, say the draft guidelines, which will be finalized later this year.

Like so many with MCI, forgetting names sent Mac McNellis of Chicago to the doctor nine years ago. He feared the dementia his mother had suffered in her 90s, but he was relieved to learn he had MCI. McNellis enrolled in a study at Rush that scans his brain annually, and researchers advised mental and physical exercise.

Now 85, he plays golf and cards, and is a pro at Sudoku and intricate woodworking. Then last fall, he experienced a new MCI symptom _ getting frustrated in unfamiliar places _ and began an Alzheimer’s drug in hopes of slowing further decline.

“I just go with the flow,” McNellis says.

But his wife, Gerry, says learning about MCI early was a big help.

“Staying active was probably the most important thing,” says Gerry McNellis. “Fear of the unknown I think can really be detrimental. If you have an idea that there are some things that can be done within your own power, it’s really helpful.”

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EDITOR’S NOTE _ Lauran Neergaard covers health and medical issues for The Associated Press in Washington.

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Online:

Alzheimer's Association study info: http://www.alz.org/research/clinical_trials/find_clinical_trials_trialmatch.asp

Draft guidelines: http://www.alz.org/research/diagnostic_criteria/