Mammograms, Colonoscopies, and Cognitive Assessments

I had my first mammogram a few years ago. It wasn’t because I suspected I had breast cancer. It’s because I hit the age where they told me I needed a mammogram.

At some age that I don’t remember (and that’s probably changed in the last 25 years), I had my first Pap smear. Again, there was no concern I had cancer. It’s just what I was supposed to do.

I am guessing that you have also had medical tests, not because thought something what wrong, but because they were generically recommended by your doctor.

Perhaps a colonoscopy. A prostate exam. A bone density test.

Why don’t we do this with cognitive testing?

What if, when a person hits a certain age, a cognitive test was part of a basic physical assessment?

People would do a cognitive test–not because something is wrong–but to have some data to compare over time.

I am not an expert on mammograms, but I am guessing that if there was something suspicious on my mammogram, the first step would be to look at previous mammograms to compare.

Could we do the same thing with cognitive testing?

Let’s say your loved one starts to show symptoms of dementia. They go to a physician. The physician does a cognitive tests and says your loved one got a 26.

What does that mean?

What would this have gotten on the cognitive test last year? Or five years ago?

Keep in mind that dementia is about change. It’s cognitive decline. And decline really means change.

We don’t need a snapshot of where a person is. We need a video of their progression.

I am not the first person to suggest this. And, occasionally I hear from someone who says that their physician started doing cognitive assessments as part of their physical at the age of 65 even though they did not have dementia symptoms. Wonderful, although I’d argue that 65 is too late…especially for a test that is so cheap to administer.

What I am suggesting does happen. It just doesn’t happen enough.

Keep in mind that a cognitive assessment is not used to diagnose Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia. It is used to determine if a referral and more testing may be needed.

A few advantages of doing a cognitive assessment at regular intervals. If a person does show symptoms of dementia but doesn’t recognize those symptoms, they don’t have to be dragged by the family to an assessment; they may have one coming up.

Also, many people who show symptoms of dementia have anxiety about doing an assessment that is reflected on the assessment results. If they did the assessment regularly, anxiety would be less of an issue.

I know a lot of people don’t like the idea of cognitive tests. I get it.

But I have this stuff sitting in my bathroom that I have to drink in May before I get my first colonoscopy. They changed the age to 45…right when I turned 45. I’m not excited about it.

I am doing it anyway. Just like I do my Pap smears and mammograms.

Let’s just throw in that cognitive assessment.

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