How Cognitive Screening Can Help People With Dementia

I subscribe to the ALFA (Assisted Living Federation of America) eNewsletter, which recently featured a piece about the importance of cognitive screening. It got me thinking quite a bit about the training we do and why we do it, and I thought I'd share my thoughts with you here.

With the incidence of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias on the rise, physicians and all healthcare professionals should be trained to identify indicators of cognitive impairment. The sooner a person's symptoms are identified and diagnosed, the sooner we can ensure that they and their family and friends have the support they need to see them through their journey with the disease. I recommend:
  1. Performing observations.
    • Listen to patient and family reports of problems.
    • Observe challenges such as:
      • Difficulty retaining recent or new information.
      • Difficulty solving problems.
      • A decline in abilities such as driving, managing finances, or taking medications safely.
      • Less participation in social activities or other activities that have meaning for the person.
  2. If indicated, performing a cognitive screen such as the mini-mental status exam (MMSE) or the Functional Assessment Staging Tool (FAST).
  3. If indicated, performing assessments to:
    • Diagnose the root cause of the cognitive impairment.
    • Identify the severity of the cognitive problem via:
      • Occupational or speech therapists who use functional cognitive assessments such as Allen Cognitive Assessments.
      • A neuropsychiatrist who can isolate the areas of cognitive problems.
      • Other professionals who can isolate the areas of cognitive problems.

Once the diagnosis behind the cognitive challenges is made, and the severity of the problem is identified, a treatment plan should be created. Treatment should consist of medications and referral to an occupational therapist who specializes in dementia or cognitive habilitation therapy.

The goal is to enable the person with Alzheimer's or dementia to function as safely and independently as possible. Trained professionals can do this by creating a fit between what the person can/cannot do and what they are asked or required to do in everyday life. A trained occupational therapist can set up a daily plan that identifies the right fit, and can train family caregivers or other care providers on how to properly support the person with Alzheimer's or dementia. The physician must oversee the medical assessments and medication therapies to rule out factors that could temporarily impact the person's cognitive health (factors such as infections), and, if appropriate, prescribe medications to help slow the progression of the disease that's impacting the person's cognition.

Check out the video below for a personal story about why cognitive screening is so important. Also, if you're interested in more news about and more insight into providing quality dementia care, I encourage you to sign up for our dementia care eNewsletter.

And let me know—do you think early diagnosis is important to helping people with dementia maintain quality of life? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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