Many older people show evidence of mental decline, called mild cognitive impairment, but doctors often miss this sometimes early sign of dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
To help doctors get a better handle on their patients' mental state, the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) is urging physicians to assess patients aged 65 and older at least once a year.
Mild cognitive impairment
The academy recommends that doctors use a mathematical tool that helps quantify their patients' memory and thinking skills.
"Since thinking skills are the most sensitive indicator of brain function and they can be tested cost-effectively, this creates an enormous opportunity to improve neurologic care," study author Dr Norman Foster, of the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, said in an AAN news release.
Around the world, nearly 7% of people in their early 60s suffer from mild cognitive impairment, as do 38% of those aged 85 and older, according to the AAN.
Using the new metric can alert doctors so that optimal care can be provided. Although there is no cure for mild cognitive impairment, its presence can help doctors keep watch should the patient progress to dementia.
"We cannot expect people to report their own memory and thinking problems because they may not recognise that they are having problems or they may not share them with their doctors," Foster said.
"Annual assessments will not only help identify mild cognitive impairment early, it will also help physicians more closely monitor possible worsening of the condition," he added.
The report was published online in the journal Neurology.
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