Early detection of cognitive decline is critical to the health and well-being of patients and their family members. However, millions of older adults with cognitive impairment go undiagnosed by their primary care providers (PCP) because they are unsure who to screen, which assessment tool to use, and have notable time constraints. The goal of this study is to develop and validate an automated risk assessment and cognitive screening (RACS) application that is easy to use for both people with cognitive impairment and PCPs.
Full Project Abstract
In the United States and around the world, people are living longer lives. As the population ages, so does the number of older adults who may experience declines in memory, attention, reasoning, or other thinking skills. Some of these changes in cognition can be treated and reversed if caught early. Others can be slowed down and hopefully one day prevented. Unfortunately, people with cognitive decline or very mild dementia often are not recognized until late in the disease course when treatments are less effective. As the first health care professional most people reach out to about medical concerns, primary care providers play a critical role in detecting cognitive decline early. While many primary care providers conduct cognitive screening at Medicare Annual Wellness Visits and when patients voice concerns, 9 out of 10 would like more information about who to screen, which assessment tool to use, and what to say if screening is positive. Deciding who to screen with a brief cognitive assessment tool is a key part of the process because not everyone needs to be screened, and primary care providers already face time pressures to address the obvious and immediate concerns of their patients.
The long-term goal of this project is to develop a risk assessment and cognitive screening tool that requires minimal time and effort from primary care providers or their staff and is sensitive to cognitive decline in older adults from diverse educational and racial/ethnic backgrounds.
The tool will be integrated into electronic health record systems to make it easy for primary care providers and patients to see results.
- The specific aims of the first phase of the project are to modify an existing dementia risk screening index to identify older adults who are at high-risk for cognitive impairment, develop a brief cognitive assessment tool using tasks that are easy for older adults to perform yet are sensitive to cognitive decline, confirm their utility in 150 people with varying levels of cognitive abilities that have already been well defined, and test ways to integrate findings into the electronic health record.
- The specific aims for the second phase are to further test the effectiveness of the newly developed tool in 250 older adults receiving care in a primary care clinic, to find out from primary care providers using the tool how much they liked it and if it was useful and easy to use, and to integrate findings into multiple electronic health record systems. Findings from this project will fill a gap in the existing toolkit of primary care providers and will make screening for cognitive decline quick, easy, and effective.
a. The research for the RACS app was presented at the 2022 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference and 2021 Aging & Health Informatics Conference.
b. Varshinee and Lokesh (two undergraduate research assistants) submitted this project to the Texas Student Research showdown and received honorable mention: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YxZ8cLGWDaE
Robin Hilsabeck, PhD: lead investigator, Suzanne Schmitz: research assistant, Sruthi Grade: undergraduate research assistant.