Screening by Primary-Care Doctors May Spot Dementia

Findings run counter to current recommendations, which advise against routine mental checks

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MONDAY, Feb. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Routine screening at primary care clinics led to a two- to threefold increase in diagnoses of brain-function impairments such as dementia in older veterans, researchers say.

The new study included more than 8,000 U.S. veterans aged 70 and older who agreed to undergo a brief screening during a routine visit to a VA primary care clinic. None of the veterans showed signs of memory loss.

Of the 2,081 (26 percent) who failed the screening, 580 (28 percent) agreed to further evaluation. Of those, 93 percent were found to have brain-function impairment, including 75 percent with dementia.

This type of mental decline, known as "cognitive" impairment, causes a reduction in skills such as memory, learning and thinking beyond what's expected with normal aging.

The researchers noted that 118 patients who passed the initial screening requested further evaluation, and 87 percent were found to have some mental decline, including 70 percent with dementia.

The study is published in the February issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

"Our study demonstrates that proactive strategies such as routine screening are well-accepted and effective in diagnosing cognitive impairment, and that primary care providers value the diagnostic and management services involved," noted study leader Dr. J. Riley McCarten, of the Minneapolis VA Health Care System and the University of Minnesota, in a journal news release.

"This project has implications for strategies that seek to improve care and contain costs in dementia," McCarten added.

The study findings contradict the current standard recommendations by the American College of Physicians, U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, and Alzheimer's Association. They discourage routine screening for dementia on all older patients at a certain age. Screening is only recommended if a patient sees a doctor about some type of problem that could be due to dementia.

More information

The Alzheimer's Association offers an overview of mild cognitive impairment.

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