Brief Cognitive Tests and Alzheimer's Diagnoses

Contributed by: Dennis Fortier, President, Medical Care Corporation

Over the weekend, the Chicago Tribune ran an important article about Alzheimer's Disease and how brief cognitive tests might enable much earlier intervention. There are several points in the article that I want to discuss here.

First, the general theme about the importance of early detection is well supported by scientific evidence. However, the assertion that early detection of "dementia" is important obscures the point that we really need to detect medical problems before they progress all the way to dementia. In fact, once a person is demented, tests and technology become all but unnecessary for "detection" because the physician and the family will surely recognize the presence of a problem.

Second, brief cognitive tests are now harnessing the power of computers to distill patterns of cognitive performance and to compare those patterns to large data banks of well studied patients. These tests are highly accurate and are increasingly embraced by primary care physicians to distinguish the worried well from those with an early stage medical problem that deserves further evaluation. In this way, such brief tests are already enabling earlier intervention and improving clinical outcomes.

Finally, the article discusses the notion that some patients may not wish to know about a problem (such as Alzheimer's) if there is no cure. That attitude is also changing rapidly as the masses gain knowledge about the many causes of memory loss. Many can be completely resolved and most others can be improved with proper treatment. Even Alzheimer's disease can be slowed to maintain a higher quality which is a worthy and obtainable goal. In addition, the FDA pipeline for better treatments looks very promising and may yield improved treatments within the next five years.

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