Cognitive testing is more important than ever, especially among older adults. Yet only 16% of seniors receive regular cognitive testing during routine health checkups, according to Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures, an annual report released by the Alzheimer’s Association.
“We need to increase the confidence and the skills of front-line providers so they can provide more care in this area,” Joanne Pike, chief program officer at the Alzheimer’s Association, told CNN. “We need to destigmatize the process for seniors, encouraging people to talk to their health care providers and families about their concerns.”
Every senior should receive cognitive testing at their first Medicare wellness visit at age 65, according to the report. Exams should be a regular part of their ongoing annual care from there. But a lack of communication between primary care physicians and patients results in delays to seek answers to cognitive decline.
More than 90% of seniors believed their doctor would recommend cognitive testing, concluded surveys conducted by the Alzheimer’s Association. Primary care physicians, on the other hand, assumed patients would inform them of immediate changes in behavior, or families would report symptoms and request cognitive testing.
“So while physicians say it’s important to assess all patients age 65 or older, fewer than half are saying that it’s part of the standard protocol,” Pike said.
To address this, the surveys introduce educational opportunities for seniors and doctors alike. For example, exploring new diagnostic modalities and best practices for cognitive testing are crucial educational areas for physicians. Such opportunities have the potential to lead to more cognitive testing. In turn, greater detection and diagnosis of cognitive impairment and dementia may result.
The surveys also reveal that primary care physicians are seeking information on how to better conduct assessments. This points to a desire for improvement. What’s more, younger doctors place more importance on cognitive testing than their older counterparts, which suggests early detection of cognitive decline will be more prevalent in the future of dementia care.
The State of Alzheimer’s Today
In 2019, there an estimated 5.8 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the report. This includes about 5.6 million people age 65 and older, and approximately 200,000 individuals under age 65.
Looking ahead, the number of new and existing cases of Alzheimer’s will increase as the number of older Americans grows. Without a medical breakthrough or a cure, this figure could reach a projected 13.8 billion people over age 65.
Such alarming numbers prove the importance of cognitive testing for early detection. The good news is, both seniors and doctors view screening as important. That means it will hopefully become more commonplace moving forward.