As the number of individuals living with Alzheimer’s continues to increase, it’s incredibly important to make sure the disease is being detected early and that diagnosed individuals have the best opportunity to plan for the future. Routine assessment of thinking and memory for seniors is an important first step. Unfortunately, consistent cognitive assessments don’t occur as often as they should.

The "special section" of the annual Alzheimer’s Association Facts and Figures report examines awareness, attitudes and use of brief cognitive assessments among seniors age 65 and older and primary care physicians. While the report found that both patients and primary care physicians agree on the benefits of early detection and brief cognitive assessments, just half of seniors (47 percent) are being assessed for cognitive decline, and only one in seven (16 percent) are receiving regular assessments.

To put it in perspective, seniors report for regular assessments in the following percentages:

• Blood pressure – 91 percent

• Cholesterol – 83 percent

• Vaccinations – 80 percent

• Hearing/Vision – 73 percent

• Diabetes – 66 percent

• Cancer – 61 percent

• Cognition– 16 percent

 Despite this, both physicians and seniors alike acknowledge the importance of having their cognition and memory tested:

 • 94 percent of primary care physicians consider it important to assess all patients age 65 and older for cognitive impairment.

• 82 percent of seniors believe it is important to have their thinking and memory checked.

So why are only 16 percent of seniors reporting they receive regular assessments for memory or thinking issues? Where does this discrepancy come from?

The report found that there is a troubling disconnect between seniors and primary care physicians regarding who they believe is responsible for initiating these assessments. The findings show there are three main reasons physicians choose to not provide a cognitive assessment:

• 68 percent cited a lack of symptoms or complaints from a patient.

• 58 percent said there was not enough time during a patient visit to conduct the assessment.

• 57 percent claimed that patients were too resistant to testing to complete it.

While there is a discrepancy on who initiates the conversation about cognitive assessments, the report also found that there are hesitations, fears and concerns from patients about receiving the assessment.

• 31 percent of seniors say they would be afraid to know if they have thinking or memory problems.

• 19 percent believe there is no cure or treatment for thinking or memory problems, so why bother testing for it?

It’s normal to feel nervous about undergoing a cognitive assessment, but early detection of cognitive impairment offers numerous medical, social, emotional and planning benefits for both affected individuals and their families. The sooner a diagnosis is given, the sooner treatment of symptoms can happen. An early diagnosis can spark changes in one’s lifestyle to help preserve existing cognitive function, give the individual a better understanding of what is happening and provide time to plan for the future.

We hope this report raises awareness about current gaps in communication and encourages seniors and physicians to be more proactive in routinely discussing cognition and related concerns. The Alzheimer’s Association encourages seniors and physicians to be proactive in reviewing and assessing cognition in the exam room, so changes that warrant further attention can be addressed in a timely manner.

If you are concerned by the memory or behavior of a loved one of yourself, call the Alzheimer’s Association at 1-800-242-3800 or visit To learn more about the Facts and Figures report, visit

Sarah Lovegreen is the vice president of Programs at Alzheimer's Association Greater Missouri Chapter.