Encouraging developments in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other dementias are all around us. With new treatments coming to market and a pipeline of 140+ agents in development, providers may soon have the most powerful weapons yet against AD in their hands – adding to expanding data on the power of lifestyle interventions to prevent or delay cognitive decline. However, widespread myths, misconceptions, and missed opportunities continue to impede early detection and treatment when it comes to cognitive disorders.
As primary care providers (PCPs), we meet our patients on the frontlines of their healthcare journeys and we owe it to them to stay current on the evolving state of cognitive impairment detection and intervention. Knowledge of what our patients think about cognitive health is especially important. Understanding patient perspectives on AD and other dementias — prevention, symptoms, openness to testing, receptivity to interventions — is critical to getting ahead of this growing threat. To that end, Linus Health recently organized a survey of 1,000 older adults in the US. The results offer PCPs powerful insights.
In addition to understanding that our patients want more insight into brain health, we need to prepare for a surge in interest in cognitive testing as people hear about emerging treatments. In fact, 60% of survey respondents said they would contact a provider for information and/or testing upon learning of a new drug being approved to treat AD.
Whether patients end up needing further diagnostics or not, it is clear that they want to pursue more prevention strategies and PCPs should be prepared to offer personalized suggestions. Three in four older adults would like to learn more about how to reduce dementia risk from their PCPs and 95% are willing to make at least one lifestyle change if directly connected to brain health. We need to harness this motivation to encourage changes like stopping tobacco use and increasing exercise.
For those who do go on to have an AD diagnosis, both drug and lifestyle interventions rely on early detection to maximize impact; PCPs are in the best position to make this happen and we must commit to expanding cognitive assessments in our practices. Patients are worried and they want more control: AD was respondents’ top health concern as they age, and – despite prevailing misconceptions – over 90% said they would prefer to know of AD early, even before symptoms occur.
There is a disconnect with this preference and what is happening today though, signaling a shift that needs to coincide with the changing landscape: only 12% of respondents regularly discuss cognitive health with their PCP and only 23% have ever had a cognitive assessment. This is due in no small part to outdated tools.
As patients seek to be more proactive about brain health, they will turn to their PCPs first, but PCPs lack the requisite tools to assess cognition efficiently and effectively. Traditional paper-based cognitive tests are time-consuming and manual; susceptible to subjectivity; and focused only on scores. PCPs should evaluate digital tools to help them not only test more efficiently, but also get better insight into patients’ cognitive function. Linus Health’s iPad-based digital cognitive assessment solution, for example, can help PCPs spot cognitive issues sooner – with a test that takes a fraction of the time – and empower them with corresponding clinical guidance to inform next steps.
Time is of the essence for PCPs to look at their clinical workflows, especially around visits for patients over 55 years old, and identify appropriate ways to incorporate brief cognitive assessments. We have the opportunity to take a more proactive approach to brain health, with help from state-of-the-art tools, impactful lifestyle interventions, promising drugs, and the knowledge that patients want to tackle this issue head-on.
Read the full survey findings for more patient perspectives on prevention, detection, and treatment. And, when ready to take the next step in enhancing cognitive care, download Linus Health’s guide to expanding cognitive assessments.
John Showalter, MD, MSIS, is a dual board-certified primary care physician and Chief Product Officer at Linus Health, a digital health company focused on early detection of Alzheimer’s and other dementias. He previously spent five years as Chief Product Officer at Jvion, a leader in clinical AI, and 10 years in leadership roles at health systems, most recently serving as Chief Health Information Officer and Chief Medical Information Officer at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, where he also practiced clinically in internal medicine and family medicine.