Identifying traits of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) a condition that frequently precedes Alzheimer’s can help families and clinicians get an earlier jump on Alzheimer’s treatments, a study finds.

MCI is associated with a much higher risk for developing Alzheimer’s, but researchers at Canada’s Concordia University have found that deficits in memory and executive function can spur early diagnosis and treatment. 

In a study of people with MCI, the researchers found that almost half performed poorly in all the executive function tests, which evaluate a person’s decision-making and problem-solving abilities. The biggest impairment of executive function was inhibitory control, or the ability to control, for example, comments about a person’s weight gain.

“The problem is that patients and their families have difficulty reporting executive functioning problems to their physician because they may not have a good understanding of what these problems look like in their everyday life,” said Erin K. Johns, a doctoral student involved in the study. “That’s why neuropsychological testing is important.”

The study was published in a recent issue of the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.