Alzheimer’s Screenings Often Overlooked During Senior Wellness Exams

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerAugust 8, 2019

A recent report from the Alzheimer’s Association found that less than half of primary care physicians surveyed routinely tested patients age 65 and older for cognitive issues, despite 10% of people over 65 having Alzheimer’s disease.

Learn more about the lack of cognitive testing in routine care and why advocates are calling for Alzheimer’s screenings to be part of senior wellness exams.

Research Shows Lack of Alzheimer’s Screenings During Wellness Exams

According to a new report from the Alzheimer’s Association, 91% of seniors receive blood pressure checks and 83% receive a cholesterol test at their annual exam. However, less than half of primary care doctors included in the survey said they routinely test patients over 65 for cognitive issues.

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Only 16% of seniors surveyed said they receive regular cognitive assessments during routine health exams and only 25% of seniors reported that a health care provider has ever asked them if they have any concerns about their thinking or memory.

Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach for the Alzheimer’s Association, remarks, “This cognitive assessment should be part of every senior’s annual wellness visit. But we’re seeing that it’s simply not happening.”

There’s no question that early diagnosis is key to managing and mitigating the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and dementia. However, because doctors often skip Alzheimer’s evaluations, many seniors are only diagnosed after the disease has progressed too far to make plans or participate in a clinical trial.

What Will It Take to Make Cognitive Testing Routine?

Four out of five seniors believe it’s important to have cognitive tests just as they have other physical health aspects checked. Reportedly, 94% of primary care physicians agreed that it is important to assess every patient 65 years old and older for cognitive decline as well. So, why are Alzheimer’s screenings not a part of routine care?

One common reason may be that doctors fear they will harm a patient by doing an assessment that reveals a cognitive issue. To test this, a team of researchers conducted a study to see if patients were harmed by Alzheimer’s screenings. They found that was no increase in rates of anxiety or depression in older adults who were screened for cognitive decline.

Another reason may be that cognitive testing has yet to show a clear benefit. The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force claims there is insufficient evidence on Alzheimer’s screenings to assess if it does more harm or more good. Dr. Sheryl Sun, chief of internal medicine at Kaiser Permanente, says it’s hard to justify the limited time in an appointment to do a cognitive assessment. She says, “If you spend time doing things of questionable value, you might not get to the things that are of proven value.”

Do you think Alzheimer’s screenings should be a part of routine care? Would you want to know if you were in the early stages of dementia? We’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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