The concept of cognitive impairment intervening between normal ageing and very early dementia has been in the literature for many years. Recently, the construct of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) has been proposed to designate an early, but abnormal, state of cognitive impairment. MCI has generated a great deal of research from both clinical and research perspectives. Numerous epidemiological studies have documented the accelerated rate of progression to dementia and Alzheimer's disease (AD) in MCI subjects and certain predictor variables appear valid. However, there has been controversy regarding the precise definition of the concept and its implementation in various clinical settings. Clinical subtypes of MCI have been proposed to broaden the concept and include prodromal forms of a variety of dementias. It is suggested that the diagnosis of MCI can be made in a fashion similar to the clinical diagnoses of dementia and AD. An algorithm is presented to assist the clinician in identifying subjects and subclassifying them into the various types of MCI. By refining the criteria for MCI, clinical trials can be designed with appropriate inclusion and exclusion restrictions to allow for the investigation of therapeutics tailored for specific targets and populations.