News & Commentary

PCPs Not Testing For Memory Loss

Only 16% of seniors get brief cognitive screenings when they see their primary care physicians for an annual Medicare wellness visit, according to a report by the Alzheimer’s Association.

The Association collected data by phone or online from 1,954 people aged 65 or older and 1,000 primary care physicians. Researchers found that most PCPs and four of five seniors like the idea of assessments. But only one in seven seniors get them.

Meanwhile, PCPs offer screening or preventive services for blood pressure (91%), cholesterol (83%), vaccinations (80%), hearing or vision (73%), diabetes (66%), and cancer (61%).

There’s a bit of an “After you! No, after you!” dynamic going on when it comes to cognitive screening. Seniors expect their PCPs to recommend the tests, while PCPs wait for the seniors or family members to tell them of cognitive problems.

And, of course, many PCPs (58%) say they just don’t have enough time to do the tests. PCPs also aren’t quite sure about how exactly to conduct the tests, and nine out of 10 PCPs want more guidance on how to do them and how to spot the patients who need them, the report states.

Ninety-nine percent of PCPs say it’s important to test high-risk patients for cognitive problems, and 87% say it’s very important. High-risk patients are those with a family history of dementia, depression, personality changes, fall and balance issues, and a deterioration of chronic disease for no apparent reason.

There are some generational differences at work as well, with younger physicians (those in practice fewer than 25 years) seeming more focused than older physicians (in practice 25 years or longer) on assessing patients for cognitive impairment.

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