By Joyce Lee
The rapidly aging population of the U.S. – which includes more than 76 million ‘Baby Boomers’ approaching their 60s and 70s – has increased national organization’s efforts to tackle problems associated with age-related cognitive impairment and dementia, the Journal of the American Medical Association recently reported.
One of these organizations, the Gerontological Society of America (GSA), recently released a toolkit centered around detecting and diagnosing cognitive impairments. The focus of this initiative is to start the conversation around cognitive decline earlier and connect patients to the appropriate resources faster than before.
One GSA recommendation is to expand the role primary care plays in identifying problems of cognitive impairment and dementia. Primary care physicians are advised to adopt a systematic approach to issues of cognitive impairment and dementia:
- starting the conversation around brain health
- testing patients for cognitive impairment
- conducting diagnostic tests, if necessary
- referring patients to the right resources
“We’ve done it with cancer, we’ve done it with heart disease, and we can and should do it with Alzheimer’s disease – integrating substantial expertise into primary care practice,” Penn Memory Center Co-Director Dr. Jason Karlawish said.
In particular, the question of what to do following a diagnosis is important to focus on. A PMC study recently published in the Journal of Gerontology showed that patients aware of their mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or Alzheimer’s disease (AD) diagnosis reported facing more daily difficulties and dissatisfaction in their lives than those who were unaware.
“We’re not saying that we shouldn’t tell people about the diagnosis, but there’s certainly a need for careful follow-up,” PMC clinical psychologist and quantitative researcher Shana Stites said.
But if primary care can step up to take more responsibility in care for dementia and cognitive impairment, older patients struggling with these conditions might become better equipped to manage their disease and improve their wellbeing.