Emerging developments in the field of cognitive screening will significantly impact long term care insurance agents and the LTC insurance industry, as well as society in general.
“Cognitive screens” attempt to determine if a persons reasoning skills and understanding have deteriorated. Screens dont diagnose the cause and may or may not identify severity. Screens simply identify abnormal performance.
Many disciplines are interested in cognitive testing, whether for the purpose of prescribing drugs, providing appropriate care, selling screens to the “worried well” or to family members, protecting against deterioration in employee performance, avoiding an early LTC insurance claim, etc. Fortunately, research from these different disciplines is starting to converge.
As a result, tests will become less expensive, easier to administer and more prevalent. They will be given in doctors offices, senior centers and malls. Screens will be taken at home (face to face, over the phone or via the Internet). It will become increasingly common for para-professionals, non-professionals and family members to administer cognitive screening tests. Individuals in the worried well category may even self-test.
Furthermore, cognitive screens are being developed with improved sensitivity (less risk of failing to identify an individual with Alzheimers disease) and/or specificity (less likely to trigger a false alarm). More importantly, they seek to identify cognitive impairment at earlier stages of development.
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is now generally considered to be an early stage of Alzheimers. Early identification of MCI may allow earlier and different types of intervention to slow the disease while victims can still function independently.
Such treatments hopefully will extend the productive lifetime of people with Alzheimers. However, such treatments are unlikely to delay death. With onset (but not death) delayed, those with Alzheimers could have significantly shorter periods during which they and their families bear the crushing impact of Alzheimers.
Screens employ various strategies to detect cognitive impairment, including testing of: short-term memory (e.g., delayed word recall); “orientation” (awareness of the current time, date, location); ability to follow a series of instructions; mathematical skills, such as counting backwards by 7; the subjects (or familys) answers to questions (data-mining technology); and ability to rapidly identify characteristics (color, shape, etc.).