U.S. Medical Panel Thinks Twice About Pushing Cognitive Screening For Dementia

Judith Graham

[UPDATED at 11:30 a.m. ET]

A number one group of medical specialists on Tuesday declined to endorse cognitive screening for older adults, fueling a debate that has simmered for years.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force mentioned it may neither advocate nor oppose cognitive screening, citing inadequate scientific proof of the observe’s advantages and harms and calling for additional research.

The activity drive’s work informs insurance policies set by Medicare and personal insurers. Its recommendations, an accompanying scientific assertion and two editorials have been printed Tuesday within the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The activity drive’s new place comes as concern mounts over a rising tide of older adults with Alzheimer’s illness and different dementias and coverings stay elusive. Nearly 6 million Americans have Alzheimer’s illness; that inhabitants is predicted to swell to just about 14 million by 2050.

Because seniors are at greater danger of cognitive impairment, proponents say screening ― testing individuals with none signs — is a vital technique to determine individuals with unrecognized difficulties and probably result in higher care.

“This can start a discussion with your doctor: ‘You know, you’re having problems with your cognition, let’s follow this up,’” mentioned Stephen Rao of Cleveland Clinic’s Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.

Opponents say the advantages of screening are unproven and the potential for hurt is worrisome. “Getting a positive result can make someone wary about their cognition and memory for the rest of their life,” mentioned Benjamin Bensadon, an affiliate professor of geriatric medication on the University of Florida College of Medicine.

The activity drive’s stance is controversial, given how poorly the well being care system serves seniors with reminiscence and pondering issues. Physicians routinely overlook cognitive impairment and dementia in older sufferers, failing to recognize these situations at the very least 50% of the time, based on a number of research.

When the Alzheimer’s Association surveyed 1,954 seniors in December 2018, 82% mentioned they thought it was vital to have their pondering or reminiscence checked. But solely 16% mentioned physicians frequently checked their cognition.

What’s extra, Medicare insurance policies seem to affirm the worth of screening. Since 2011, Medicare has required that physicians assess a affected person’s cognition throughout an annual wellness go to. But solely 19% of seniors took benefit of this voluntary profit in 2016, the latest yr for which knowledge is out there.

Dr. Ronald Petersen, co-author of an editorial accompanying the suggestions, cautioned that they shouldn’t discourage physicians from evaluating older sufferers’ reminiscence and pondering.

“There is increased awareness, both on the part of patients and physicians, of the importance of cognitive impairment,” mentioned Petersen, director of the Mayo Clinic’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. “It would be a mistake if physicians didn’t pay more attention to cognition and consider screening on a case-by-case basis.”

Similarly, seniors shouldn’t keep away from addressing worrisome signs.

“If someone has concerns or a family member has concerns about their memory or cognitive abilities, they should certainly discuss that with their clinician,” mentioned Dr. Douglas Owens, chair of the duty drive and a professor at Stanford University School of Medicine.

In greater than a dozen interviews, specialists teased out complexities surrounding this matter. Here’s what they advised me:

Screening fundamentals. Cognitive screening entails administering quick exams (often 5 minutes or much less) to individuals with none signs of cognitive decline. It’s an effort to carry to mild issues with pondering and reminiscence that in any other case would possibly escape consideration.

Depending on the check, individuals could also be requested to recall phrases, draw a clock face, identify the date, spell a phrase backward, relate a latest information occasion or kind gadgets into completely different classes, amongst different duties. Common exams embrace the Mini-Cog, the Memory Impairment Screen, the General Practitioner Assessment of Cognition and the Mini-Mental Status Examination.

The activity drive’s analysis focuses on “universal screening”: whether or not all adults age 65 and older with out signs ought to be given exams to evaluate their cognition. It discovered an absence of high-quality scientific proof that this observe would enhance older adults’ high quality of life, make sure that they get higher care or positively have an effect on different outcomes similar to caregivers’ efficacy and well-being.

A disappointing examine. High hopes had rested on a study by researchers at Indiana University, printed in December. In that trial, 1,723 older adults have been screened for cognitive impairment, whereas 1,693 weren’t.

A yr later, seniors within the screening group weren’t extra depressed or anxious — vital proof of the shortage of hurt from the evaluation. But the examine failed to seek out proof that individuals screened had a greater health-related high quality of life or decrease charges of hospitalizations or emergency division visits.

Two-thirds of seniors who examined optimistic for cognitive impairment in her examine declined to endure additional analysis. That’s in step with findings from different research, and it testifies to “how many people are terrified of dementia,” mentioned Dr. Timothy Holden, an assistant professor at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

“What seems clear is that screening in and of itself doesn’t yield benefits unless it’s accompanied by appropriate diagnostic follow-up and care,” mentioned Nicole Fowler, affiliate director of the Center for Aging Research at Indiana University’s Regenstrief Institute.

Selective screening. “Selective screening” for cognitive impairment is a substitute for common screening and has gained help.

In a statement printed final fall, the American Academy of Neurology really helpful that each one sufferers 65 and older seen by neurologists get yearly cognitive well being assessments. Also, the American Diabetes Association  recommends that each one adults with diabetes age 65 and older be screened for cognitive impairment at an preliminary go to and yearly thereafter “as appropriate.” And the American College of Surgeons now recommends screening older adults for cognitive impairment earlier than surgical procedure.

Why check choose teams? Many sufferers with diabetes or neurological situations have overlapping cognitive signs and “it’s important to know if a patient is having trouble remembering what the doctor said,” mentioned Dr. Norman Foster, chair of the workgroup that developed the neurology assertion and a professor of neurology on the University of Utah.

Physicians might have to change remedy regimens for older adults with cognitive impairment or work extra intently with members of the family. “If someone needs to manage their own care, it’s important to know if they can do that reliably,” Foster mentioned.

With surgical procedure, older sufferers who’ve preexisting cognitive impairments are at greater danger of creating delirium, an acute, sudden-onset mind dysfunction. Identifying these sufferers can alert medical employees to this danger, which could be prevented or mitigated with applicable medical consideration.

Also, individuals who be taught they’ve early-stage cognitive impairment could be related with neighborhood sources and take steps to plan for his or her future, medically and financially. The hope is that, someday, medical therapies will have the ability to halt or gradual the development of dementia. But therapies at present obtainable don’t fulfill that promise.

Steps after screening. Screening shouldn’t be confused with prognosis: All these quick exams can do is sign potential issues.

If outcomes point out purpose for concern, a doctor ought to ask educated members of the family or associates what’s happening with an older affected person. “Are they depressed? Having problems taking care of themselves? Asking the same question repeatedly?” mentioned Dr. David Reuben, chief of geriatrics at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine and director of UCLA’s Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care program.

A complete historical past and bodily examination ought to then be undertaken to rule out potential reversible causes of cognitive difficulties, implicated in about 10% of instances. These embrace sleep apnea, melancholy, listening to or imaginative and prescient loss, vitamin B12 or folic acid deficiencies, alcohol abuse and negative effects from anticholinergic drugs or different medicines, amongst different situations.

Once different causes are dominated out, neuropsychological exams might help set up a prognosis.

“If I detect mild cognitive impairment, the first thing I’ll do is tell a patient I don’t have any drugs for that but I can help you compensate for deficits,” Reuben mentioned. The excellent news, he mentioned: A considerable variety of sufferers with MCI ― about 50% — don’t develop dementia inside 5 years of being identified.

The backside line. “If you’re concerned about your memory or thinking, ask your physician for an assessment,” mentioned Dr. David Knopman, a neurologist on the Mayo Clinic. If that check signifies purpose for concern, be sure to get applicable follow-up.

That’s simpler mentioned than carried out if you wish to see a dementia specialist, famous Dr. Soo Borson, a professor emerita of psychiatry on the University of Washington. “Everyone I know who’s doing clinical dementia care says they have wait lists of four to six months,” she mentioned.

With shortages of geriatric psychiatrists, geriatricians, neuropsychologists and neurologists, there aren’t sufficient specialists to deal with calls for that might come up if common screening for cognitive impairment have been carried out, Borson warned.

If you’re a member of the family of an older grownup who’s resisting getting examined, “reach out privately to your primary care physician and express your concerns,” mentioned Holden of Washington University. “And let your doctor know if the person isn’t seeing these changes or is resistant to talk about it.”

This occurs steadily as a result of individuals with cognitive impairments are sometimes unaware of their issues. “But there are ways that we, as physicians, can work around that,” Holden mentioned. “If a physician handles the situation with sensitivity and takes things one step at a time, you can build trust and that can make things much easier.”

We’re keen to listen to from readers about questions you’d like answered, issues you’ve been having along with your care and recommendation you want in coping with the well being care system. Visit to submit your requests or suggestions.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a nationwide well being coverage information service. It is an editorially unbiased program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which isn’t affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

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