Opinion piece: Primary Care Physicians Should Perform Regular Cognitive Assessments On Seniors

While reading the Alzheimer's Association's 2019 Facts and Figures article, I learned that only 16% of seniors receive regular cognitive assessments during health check ups. This statistic reminded me of how my family discovered that my grandmother was struggling with Alzheimer's, and why I firmly believe that primary care physicians should conduct yearly cognitive assessments on seniors. My grandmother was officially diagnosed with Alzheimer's many months after symptoms started to affect her daily life. She was diagnosed when her doctor realized that she had been forgetting to take medicine for a chronic condition she has had for the majority of her adult life. Due to her early diagnosis, my family was able to take proactive steps to help her in her fight against Alzheimer's. She was able to start taking medications that help slow the disease's progression. The sooner one takes Alzheimer's medication, the better. This is because Alzheimer's medications cannot reverse symptoms. They can merely help the patient maintain their level of cognitive function. Due to her early diagnosis, my family was also able to improve her safety by removing her driving abilities. Since I was cognizant of her memory difficulties, I monitored her medication management to ensure that she was not forgetting to take important medications. In addition to proactive safety measures, her early diagnosis has facilitated open conversations about the implications Alzheimer's will have on our lives.

I am thankful for my grandmother's early diagnosis because it has allowed my family to make critical decisions for my grandmother's safety and well-being. However, we were lucky that her doctor noticed that she was not taking her medications. If my grandmother's doctor had not been particularly astute, my grandmother would have left the appointment without the help she needed. This is why we must urge doctors to perform regular cognitive assessments on seniors during their yearly check ups.

As a society, we must be cognizant of the increasing impact Alzheimer's will have on our economy, health care system, and above all, our hearts. There are currently 5.8 million Americans living with Alzheimer's. In 2050, 14 million Americans are estimated to be affected by this horrendous disease. While we do not have a cure, early diagnoses are imperative so that patients and their families can mobilize themselves as best as possible for the fight against Alzheimer's.