A panel of world experts in aging convened at Saint Louis University recommended that everyone 70 and older should have their memory and reasoning ability evaluated annually by a doctor or health care provider.
This is the first time routine brain health screenings have been recommended for patients, starting at age 70. Patients found to have cognitive problems also should be screened for physical frailty, and vice versa, suggested the panel.
Published in the September issue of JAMDA, the recommendation for brain health comes in light of numerous studies, including those in The Lancet and New England Journal of Medicine, that suggest 30 percent of those older than 70 have memory problems. Approximately 16 percent of this group has mild cognitive impairment, while 14 percent has dementia, which includes Alzheimer’s disease.
“This is an important step in toward enhancing brain health for aging populations throughout the world,” said John Morley, M.D., director of geriatric medicine at Saint Louis University and lead author of the consensus paper. “The ability to learn, solve problems and remember is a key to successful health and aging.”
Some causes of early cognitive disorder, can be reversed and treated when caught early. These include depression, hypothyroidism, sleep apnea, problems with sight and hearing, and treatments of multiple health conditions with medications. “You can actually fix some of these issues, which is one reason why it’s critical to identify a problem and try to find a root cause,” said Morley, who also is a SLUCare Physician Group geriatrician.
The progression of cognitive impairment sometimes can be slowed through a series of lifestyle changes, the panel said.
They endorsed changes suggested in FINGER, a Finnish geriatric study published in The Lancet, which found those who ate a healthy diet, exercised, trained their memories and managed cardio-vascular risks were less likely to develop cognitive decline and memory problems than older adults who did not.
“There are things you can do to slow down the progression of not thinking well,” Morley said.
The panel endorsed a Mediterranean-type diet — packed with fruits and vegetables, fish twice a week, olive oil, nuts, legumes and whole grains — for patients who have early cognitive problems. Further, because population-based studies show brain health as well as physical well-being is connected to exercise, they encouraged physical exercise that can include resistance training and Tai Chi. The panelists also noted that population-based studies show those who dance, engage in intellectual activity and play a musical instrument have less mental decline than those who not pursue these hobbies. And video games can improve reasoning, memory, reaction time and attention in older adults.
Physicians need to know if their patients are not remembering or thinking clearly because they might not be able to follow doctors’ orders for medical problems, such as diabetes or heart disease.
“If you have diabetes and are not thinking as well as the general population, you might forget how to do the required daily finger prick to determine your blood sugar levels, which would compromise your health,” Morley said.
“However, if your doctor knows you have difficulty remembering, someone in his or her office can make sure you understand exactly how to check your glucose levels and give you written instructions as a ready reference. It’s a simple common sense thing that can make a huge difference in your health.”
Finally, for those patients whose reasoning and memory problems likely will worsen, knowing in advance can help them plan for the future. They can begin considering tough questions, such as when to stop driving or remove dangerous tools from their homes, and set up advanced directives for health, financial and legal matters. They can identify sources of support like family members or friends and organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Association.
Information is power, Morley said.
“Our recommendations are going to shape clinical practice in a big way,” Morley said. “Physicians are hungry for this information to help their patients, and as the message gets out, patients will request screenings.”
Members of the consensus panel were geriatricians, neurologists, psychiatrists, social workers and psychologists who specialized in caring for older adults. They represented institutions around the world including Saint Louis University; Washington University in St. Louis; University Hospital of Toulouse in France; Alzheimer’s Association; Mayo Clinic; University of California Los Angeles; Alzheimer Center in Amsterdam; Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York; Oxford Institute of Population Ageing in the United Kingdom; Center for Alzheimer Research in Sweden; Chinese University of Hong Kong; University of Washington in Seattle; Indiana University; University of Pittsburgh; and Salpetriere Hospital in Paris.
Funding: Study supported by Health Resources and Services Administration and Nutricia Advanced Medical Nutrition.
Source: Nancy Solomon – St Louis University
Image Source: The image is in the public domain
Original Research: Abstract for “Brain Health: The Importance of Recognizing Cognitive Impairment: An IAGG Consensus Conference” by John E. Morley, MB, BCh, John C. Morris, MD, Marla Berg-Weger, PhD, LCSW, Soo Borson, MD, Brian D. Carpenter, PhD, Natalia del Campo, PhD, Bruno Dubois, MD, Keith Fargo, PhD, L. Jaime Fitten, MD, Joseph H. Flaherty, MD, Mary Ganguli, MD, MPH, George T. Grossberg, MD, Theodore K. Malmstrom, PhD, Ronald D. Petersen, PhD, MD, Carroll Rodriguez, BSW, Andrew J. Saykin, PsyD, Philip Scheltens, MD, Eric G. Tangalos, MD, Joe Verghese, MBBS, Gordon Wilcock, MD, Bengt Winblad, MD, Jean Woo, MD, and Bruno Vellas, MD in Journal of the American Medical Directors Association. Published online September 1 2015 doi:10.1016/j.jamda.2015.06.017
Brain Health: The Importance of Recognizing Cognitive Impairment: An IAGG Consensus Conference
Cognitive impairment creates significant challenges for patients, their families and friends, and clinicians who provide their health care. Early recognition allows for diagnosis and appropriate treatment, education, psychosocial support, and engagement in shared decision-making regarding life planning, health care, involvement in research, and financial matters. An IAGG-GARN consensus panel examined the importance of early recognition of impaired cognitive health. Their major conclusion was that case-finding by physicians and health professionals is an important step toward enhancing brain health for aging populations throughout the world. This conclusion is in keeping with the position of the United States’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that reimburses for detection of cognitive impairment as part the of Medicare Annual Wellness Visit and with the international call for early detection of cognitive impairment as a patient’s right. The panel agreed on the following specific findings: (1) validated screening tests are available that take 3 to 7 minutes to administer; (2) a combination of patient- and informant-based screens is the most appropriate approach for identifying early cognitive impairment; (3) early cognitive impairment may have treatable components; and (4) emerging data support a combination of medical and lifestyle interventions as a potential way to delay or reduce cognitive decline.
“Brain Health: The Importance of Recognizing Cognitive Impairment: An IAGG Consensus Conference” by John E. Morley, MB, BCh, John C. Morris, MD, Marla Berg-Weger, PhD, LCSW, Soo Borson, MD, Brian D. Carpenter, PhD, Natalia del Campo, PhD, Bruno Dubois, MD, Keith Fargo, PhD, L. Jaime Fitten, MD, Joseph H. Flaherty, MD, Mary Ganguli, MD, MPH, George T. Grossberg, MD, Theodore K. Malmstrom, PhD, Ronald D. Petersen, PhD, MD, Carroll Rodriguez, BSW, Andrew J. Saykin, PsyD, Philip Scheltens, MD, Eric G. Tangalos, MD, Joe Verghese, MBBS, Gordon Wilcock, MD, Bengt Winblad, MD, Jean Woo, MD, and Bruno Vellas, MD in Journal of the American Medical Directors Association. Published online September 1 2015 doi:10.1016/j.jamda.2015.06.017