If these data were applied to the broader population, they suggest that around 1.8 million Americans over the age of 70 with dementia have not seen a physician about their memory problems, giving them no opportunity to receive interventions that may slow down their cognitive decline.
The study evaluated 856 seniors 70 and older, and identified 297 participants who met the criteria for dementia. Of those, only 45 percent had seen a physician about their memory problems. In addition, just 5 percent of seniors with mild memory and cognition problems had been tested by a physician for those issues, while 1 percent of seniors with normal memory had undergone cognitive testing.
The researchers tested various clinical and social predictors, and married status was the only demographic that increased the odds of getting a cognitive evaluation; race, income, and proximity of children did not influence cognitive testing.
The study authors said that this research does not answer the question of why seniors aren't seeking help, but suggested that it likely involves a combination of factors involving physicians, patients, and the nature of our health care system. For example, the study data were collected before the initiation of Medicare's free annual wellness exams for seniors, which may improve these discouraging numbers.
To read about how good physical health can keep the mind sharp, see the Psychiatric News article "Cardiovascular Fitness May Help Prevent Early-Onset Dementia."