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Tests for Cognitive Function in Senior Workers



Recently, 71-year-old President Donald Trump underwent a routine physical—complete with a cognitive function test (at his request).

Trump is just one example of a senior citizen continuing to work during what was once considered the retirement years, sparking the issue of how to assess competency in older workers. Many health systems now have programs, for example, that test whether older doctors are having physical or cognitive problems that impair their ability to do their jobs.

Cognitive functioning becomes more of an issue with advancing age. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, three percent of people aged 65 to 74 have Alzheimer’s compared with 17 percent of those 75 to 84.  Brain changes and mild symptoms begin years before people are diagnosed with dementia.

The Affordable Care Act authorized Medicare to cover an “annual wellness visit” that includes the “detection of any cognitive impairment.” To that end, the patient and family, if present, would be asked if the patient has experienced any changes in thinking ability or memory.  Changes in the ability to manage money, medications, and driving are often early signs of cognitive trouble.

Andrew Newberg, MD, an internal and nuclear medicine doctor who is director of research at Jefferson Health’s Marcus Institute of Integrative Health, conducts daylong evaluations—most are for executives—in the Executive Great Life and Advanced Brain Health programs. Most of the participants in the brain program are 55 and up, and worried about changes or a family history. Some opt for advanced brain imaging that shows whether there are signs of amyloid, a protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease, or other structural abnormalities in their brains.