Significant Disconnect Between Seniors and Physicians When It Comes to Cognitive Assessment, According to New Alzheimer’s Association Report

Columbia, SC, March 5, 2019 – The Alzheimer’s Association 2019 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report released today shows that only half of seniors are being assessed for thinking and memory issues and far fewer receive routine cognitive assessments. In addition to providing the latest statistics on Alzheimer’s disease, the new report examines awareness, attitudes, and utilization of brief cognitive assessments among both primary care physicians and seniors age 65 and older.

The new Facts and Figures report found that both groups have a widespread understanding of the importance of cognitive assessments and the benefits of early detection of cognitive decline. In fact, 82 percent of seniors believe it is important to have their thinking and memory checked, and nearly all primary care physicians (94 percent) consider it important to assess all patients age 65 and older for cognitive impairment.

Despite this strong belief, fewer than half of primary care physicians surveyed (47 percent) say it is their standard protocol to assess all patients age 65 or over for cognitive impairment. The report found that just 1 in 7 seniors (16 percent) say they receive regular cognitive assessments for memory or thinking issues during routine health checkups, compared with blood pressure (91 percent), cholesterol (83 percent), hearing or vision (73 percent), diabetes (66 percent) and cancer (61 percent).

An evaluation of cognitive function is a required component of the Medicare Annual Wellness Visit, but findings from the report show that only 1 in 3 seniors are aware these visits should include a cognitive assessment. This type of evaluation can take several forms, including asking a patient about cognitive concerns, directly observing a patient’s interactions, seeking input from family and friends, or using short verbal or written tests that can be administered easily in the clinical setting.

“We encourage both doctors and seniors to be more proactive in talking about cognitive assessment during routine visits,” said Cindy Alewine, President of the Alzheimer’s Association South Carolina Chapter. “The Medicare Annual Wellness Visit provides an excellent opportunity to discuss changes in memory and thinking year to year with the primary care physician that you know and trust.”

The new Facts and Figures report also reveals a troubling disconnect between patients and physicians, as to who should initiate these conversations, as well as reticence from seniors in discussing their concerns. Nearly all physicians surveyed said the decision to assess patients for cognitive impairment is driven by reports of symptoms or requests from patients, family members and caregivers. Physicians who choose not to assess cognition cite lack of symptoms or complaints from a patient (68 percent), lack of time during a patient visit (58 percent) and patient resistance (57 percent) as primary factors.

While half of all seniors surveyed were aware of changes in their ability to think, understand or remember, only 4 in 10 have discussed these concerns with a health care provider. Instead, most seniors (93 percent) say they trust their doctor to recommend testing for thinking or memory problems if needed.

“Open conversations between physicians and seniors are vitally important here in South Carolina, where those living with Alzheimer’s will increase from 92,000 to 120,000 by the year 2025,” said Alewine. “While it can be difficult to come to terms with changes in cognition, early detection of Alzheimer’s or related dementia gives individuals the best possible opportunity to benefit from available treatments, participate in clinical trials, and plan for the future.”

Visit alz.org to access a checklist to prepare for a doctor’s appointment, the benefits of getting checked, and resources for individuals living with Alzheimer’s or related dementia and their families.

The South Carolina information can be viewed here.

 Full text of the 2019 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report, including the accompanying special report, “Alzheimer’s Detection in the Primary Care Setting: Connecting Patients with Physicians,” can be viewed at alz.org/facts.  

CONTACT: Taylor Wilson, 803-509-7354, twilson@alz.org for more questions

 

About 2019 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures

The Alzheimer’s Association 2019 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report is a comprehensive compilation of national statistics and information on Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. The report conveys the impact of Alzheimer’s on individuals, families, government and the nation’s health care system. Since its 2007 inaugural release, the report has become the preeminent source covering the broad spectrum of Alzheimer’s issues. The Facts and Figures report is an official publication of the Alzheimer’s Association.

About the Alzheimer’s Association

The Alzheimer’s Association is the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Our mission is to eliminate Alzheimer’s disease through the advancement of research; to provide and enhance care and support for all affected; and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health. Our vision is a world without Alzheimer’s®. Visit alz.org or call 800.272.3900.