By Alessandra Malito, MarketWatch
Older adults regularly have EKGs, mammograms and colonoscopies, but not even a fifth of seniors receive regular cognitive assessments, according to a recent Alzheimer’s Association survey.
Just 16% of seniors receive regular cognitive assessments for memory or thinking issues during routine health checkups, the survey found. Comparatively, a majority of older Americans have their blood pressure, cholesterol, vaccinations and hearing and vision tested, as well as routine screenings for diabetes and cancer.
The reason so few older Americans are being tested? They think their doctors should be the ones to bring it up, whereas physicians say they wait on their patients to discuss it. Almost all seniors (93%) said they trust their doctors to recommend testing for thinking or memory issues, while more than half of physicians (53%) say that isn’t standard protocol for patients 65 and older. Only a quarter of patients say they’ve had a doctor ask them if they had any concerns about cognitive function without the patient bringing it up first.
Brief cognitive assessments, which include asking a patient about their concerns as well as asking family and friends about any differences in cognitive ability, can help doctors diagnose dementia and Alzheimer’s or help deter decline in cognitive ability. Some physicians might suggest more physical activities or brain exercises, while financial experts would suggest drafting important documents, such as wills and trusts, before the disease becomes difficult to manage.
There are numerous ailments that could eventually lead to cognitive decline, including sleep apnea and vitamin deficiency , said Joanne Pike, chief program officer at the Alzheimer’s Association. “Those are treatable,” she said. “People are living with cognitive decline when they don’t need to be.” Not only could assessments deter worsening conditions, but could also help seniors prepare for difficult times ahead.
Alzheimer’s disease, and the potential cure for it, was thrown in the national spotlight in 2017 when Microsoft /zigman2/quotes/205272083/delayed XE:MSF +1.19% co-founder Bill Gates donated $50 million through his foundation for Alzheimer’s research. Gates said the donation was personal, as the disease runs in his family.
Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia, but both diseases are expected to grow in the next few decades, especially as people live longer. More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, which is the sixth leading cause of death in the country. The disease itself doesn’t cause death, but its side effects do, such as falling, said Charbel Moussa, director of the Georgetown University Medical Center Laboratory for Dementia and Parkinsonism.
Alzheimer’s and related diseases are expected to double in the U.S. by 2060, which would affect more than 14 million older Americans, according to a study published in the Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. Non-Hispanic whites are expected to be most affected, but those increases are expected to slow or even out by 2030, whereas the diagnoses of minority populations will continue to increase.