Physician Recognition of Cognitive Impairment: Evaluating the Need for Improvement

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To assess physician recognition of dementia and cognitive impairment, compare recognition with documentation, and identify physician and patient factors associated with recognition.


Survey of physicians and review of medical records.


Health maintenance organization in southern California.


Seven hundred twenty-nine physicians who provided care for women participating in a cohort study of memory (Women's Memory Study).


Percentage of patients with dementia or cognitive impairment (using the Telephone Interview of Cognitive Status supplemented by the Telephone Dementia Questionnaire) recognized by physicians. Relationship between physician recognition and patient characteristics and physician demographics, practice characteristics, training, knowledge, and attitudes about dementia.


Physicians (n = 365) correctly identified 81% of patients with dementia and 44% of patients with cognitive impairment without definite dementia. Medical records documented cognitive impairment in 83% of patients with dementia and 26% of patients with cognitive impairment without definite dementia. In a multivariable model, physicians with geriatric credentials (defined as geriatric fellowship experience and/or the certificate of added qualifications) recognized cognitive impairment more often than did those without (risk ratio (RR) = 1.56, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 1.04–1.66). Physicians were more likely to recognize cognitive impairment in patients with a history of depression treatment (RR = 1.3, 95% CI = 1.03–1.45) or stroke (RR = 1.37, 95% CI = 1.04–1.45) and less likely to recognize impairment in patients with cognitive impairment without definite dementia than in those with dementia (RR = 0.46, 95% CI = 0.23–0.72) and in patients with a prior hospitalization for myocardial infarction (RR = 0.37, 95% CI = 0.09–0.88) or cancer (RR = 0.49, 95% CI = 0.18–0.90).


Medical record documentation reflects physician recognition of dementia, yet physicians are aware of, but have not documented, many patients with milder cognitive impairment. Physicians are unaware of cognitive impairment in more than 40% of their cognitively impaired patients. Additional geriatrics training may promote recognition, but systems solutions are needed to improve recognition critical to provision of emerging therapies for early dementia.

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