MONDAY, June 6 (HealthDay News) -- A new study finds that older people with mild cognitive impairment -- sometimes a precursor to Alzheimer's disease -- have a harder time remembering important dates and medications than those without cognitive problems.

Mild cognitive impairment can be annoying but it isn't as severe as conditions that significantly disrupt daily life. It can, however, occur before serious conditions such as Alzheimer's disease and other causes of dementia.

Patrick J. Brown of the New York State Psychiatric Institute and his colleagues looked at neurological test results, brain-imaging studies and other data from 229 people with no cognitive problems, 394 with mild cognitive impairment and memory problems, and 193 diagnosed with mild Alzheimer's disease.

Those in the latter two groups had much more trouble with at least one kind of cognitive function, especially "assembling tax records, business affairs or other papers" and "remembering appointments, family occasions, holidays and medications," according to the study.

"These findings show that even mild disruptions in daily functioning may be an important clinical indicator of disease and represent the latter phases of disease progression," the study authors wrote.

Still, one expert not involved with the study cautioned that people shouldn't read too much into the findings.

"Just because someone misplaces their keys or glasses, forgets an appointment or a dose of medication does not mean they have early Alzheimer's disease," stressed Dr. James E. Galvin, professor of neurology and psychiatry and director of the Pearl S. Barlow Center for Memory Evaluation and Treatment at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City.

He pointed out that the study was seeking to understand which individuals with mild memory problems (called mild cognitive impairment, or MCI) were likely to progress to Alzheimer's disease.

"Everyone occasionally forgets," Galvin said. "It's when the forgetfulness becomes a consistent feature and in some way interferes with everyday activities that it is time to discuss with your doctor."

The study was published in the June issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on the warning signs of dementia.