5 Reasons to Screen for Cognitive Impairments using Online Tools

With the system of healthcare in the United States and the rapid aging of the baby boomer generation, there will be an increasing difficulty for medical professionals to meet the healthcare demands of a disproportionate population of elderly citizens. New methodologies that utilize technology are necessary in order to address and meet these demands. An advantage that the advent of online technologies presents is the ability for individuals to screen themselves for disorders, especially those that involve cognitive impairments. The following list is a set of potential benefits that people could reap from using online tools to screen for cognitive impairment:

1) Online screening can lead to earlier identification of cognitive impairments.

Traditionally, individuals do not suspect they have any form of cognitive impairment until they experience occasions where their memory or other cognitive faculties fail them, or someone close to them observes and voices concern about that individual’s cognitive performance. Having a test that is online, non-invasive, and easy-to-use empowers individuals to take care into their own hands, and identify problems at earlier stages of impairment.

2) Early identification of cognitive impairments will reduce monetary costs to individuals and society.

If cognitive problems are caught early, then individuals will be aware of their impairments and be able to take action to avoid potentially dangerous situations. For example, up to 60% of individuals with dementia are at risk for wandering away from their residence without notice [1]. Individuals that wander away place themselves in potentially dangerous situations, and put tremendous psychological strain on the ones that care for them. Furthermore, individuals that suffer from cognitive impairment are at an increased risk for being involved in serious accidents. However, if precaution is taken when there is identification of cognitive impairments, then the risk factors for these individuals can be greatly reduced through treatment and changes to their environment.

3) Screening will lead to better care.

Recognizing cognitive problems early gives patients a wider array of treatment options. Current pharmaceuticals that can help treat the cognitive symptoms of include cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine, which have been demonstrated to be effective in moderate to severe stages of dementia [2]. However, in earlier stages of cognitive impairment the supplement Gingko biloba has been shown to have favorable effects on cognitive performance and social functioning [3]. Furthermore, patients that recognize mild impairments can take measures to improve their cognitive functioning through beneficial activities, such as partaking in stimulating mental activities, physical exercise and other nonpharmacological interventions [4].

4) More time efficient and cost effective compared to traditional methods.

One traditional option that individuals may choose to gauge their cognitive performance is to be screened for memory problems at National Memory Screening Day, which is November 15th of this year [5]. However, this only presents a very limited window of opportunity for an individual to examine their cognitive performance. Another option is to see a doctor, who may administer a cognitive performance test or refer the individual to a specialist. With an online tool, an individual can skip the preliminary steps of going to a location and taking a test and instead be able to screen for problems from the comfort of their own home, thus saving time. This method can also reduce costs associated with doctors administering preliminary neuropsychological tests that measure cognitive performance.

5) Better overall health outcomes.

Ultimately, with the aforementioned benefits of screening for cognitive impairments using online tools, there is the possibility for better overall health outcomes for individuals. If an individual is fearful that they may be facing some form of cognitive impairment, then an online screening test may either indicate to them that there is nothing to worry about, or that they need to seek further help. In either case, the burden of fear is taken off the shoulders of that individual when they are able to quickly determine whether their fears are justifiable. Furthermore, when an individual is able to use an online tool to make data-driven decisions, they feel that their health outcomes are placed in their own hands. This has powerful implications in terms of the way that individuals conceptualize the overall course of treatment and how motivated they are to follow through with treatment plans.

References

[1] Wandering: Who is at Risk? <https://www.alz.org/national/documents/card_wanderingwhoisatrisk.pdf>

[2] Delrieu J, Piau A, Caillaud C, Voisin T, Vellas B. Managing cognitive dysfunction through the continuum of Alzheimer’s disease: role of pharmacotherapy. CNS Drugs. 2011 Mar 1;25(3):213-26. doi: 10.2165/11539810-000000000-00000. Review. PubMed PMID: 21323393

[3] Le Bars PL, Velasco FM, Ferguson JM, Dessain EC, Kieser M, Hoerr R: Influence of the Severity of Cognitive Impairment on the Effect of the Ginkgo biloba Extract EGb 761 in Alzheimer’s Disease. Neuropsychobiology 2002;45:19-26

[4] Emery VO. Alzheimer disease: are we intervening too late? J Neural Transm. 2011 Jun 7. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 21647682

[5] National Memory Screening Day <https://www.nationalmemoryscreening.org/>

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