Mild cognitive impairment is a syndrome defined as cognitive decline greater than expected for an individual's age and education level but that does not interfere notably with activities of daily life. Prevalence in population-based epidemiological studies ranges from 3% to 19% in adults older than 65 years. Some people with mild cognitive impairment seem to remain stable or return to normal over time, but more than half progress to dementia within 5 years. Mild cognitive impairment can thus be regarded as a risk state for dementia, and its identification could lead to secondary prevention by controlling risk factors such as systolic hypertension. The amnestic subtype of mild cognitive impairment has a high risk of progression to Alzheimer's disease, and it could constitute a prodromal stage of this disorder. Other definitions and subtypes of mild cognitive impairment need to be studied as potential prodromes of Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia.