Harvard Health Letter

When dementia screenings are appropriate

Screening for dementia shouldn't be a routine part of aging, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). The group says there is not enough evidence to support routine screening for dementia or mild cognitive impairment among people ages 65 and older if they have no symptoms. "The problem is that not all of the screening tests are reliable. From the list of screenings provided by the USPSTF, the test that is reliable for early detection of cognitive impairment is the Free and Cued Selective Reminding Test (FCSRT), but it requires expertise and time to administer and cannot be given by a primary care physician," says Dr. Gad Marshall, a neurologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital. "However, the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) is a screening assessment that picks up early cognitive deficits, and that could be given by a primary care physician." If you're worried about dementia because of a family history or mild symptoms, Dr. Marshall says it's reasonable to see an expert for testing, such as a neurologist, neuropsychologist, or psychiatrist. 

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