As reported in a recent issue of Kaiser Health News, those USPST experts evaluated evidence of the benefit, harm, and clinical utility of several screening tools for cognitive impairment, and determined that the evidence was not sufficient to recommend the tests for seniors without symptoms.
Asymptomatic seniors might perform poorly on these cognitive tests for other reasons, like sleep apnea or depression – which can also affect memory and function. Dean Hartley, director of science initiatives at the Alzheimer’s Association, recommends that people take cognitive tests only in a medical setting with a trained profession who can draw reliable conclusions based on the full medical history from patients and their families.
The Risk of Fear
Experts concur that isolated screenings at health fairs and shopping malls – tests that do not take into account patients’ broader medical history – are a bad idea. They can cause unnecessary fear and raise more questions than they answer.
Nonetheless, the Alzheimer’s Association endorses the tests when they’re properly performed, because they establish a baseline for comparison against future results. In addition, large-scale testing might give individuals and their families an early warning, important because drugs – like Aricept – are most effective during the early stages of dementia.