What is a Cognitive Screening?

It’s well known that our mental faculties decline a bit as we age, like becoming more forgetful or easily distracted. That’s why you should receive a cognitive screening each year. Luckily, it’s covered by Medicare.

As we age, it’s common to experience some degree of cognitive decline relating to processing information, executive cognitive function, and memory. It’s essential that you take time to check for mental decline as we age so that it can be monitored and accounted for. But what exactly is a cognitive screening, and how much does one cost?

What Can Happen During a Cognitive Screening?

A cognitive screening, sometimes called a cognitive test or cognitive assessment, is a series of checks that a doctor may perform in order to gauge your level of mental function. By extension, your doctor may also find worrying signs of cognitive decline that align more closely with dementia or another condition than with standard age-related decline. It may also help to diagnose or flag warning signs of mental health conditions like depression or anxiety.

Most cognitive assessments will test mental skills like short- and long-term memory, judgement and language comprehension, and even abstract thinking. There are a few different formalized tests your health care providers may utilize. The Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) is a roughly 30-question assessment that checks your cognitive ability over the course of around 10 minutes. The Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE) is a similar, if shorter, test that takes between five and 10 minutes to gauge six areas of cognition like orientation to place and time or attention and concentration. Finally, the Mini-Cog is the quickest of the three standard tests, only taking three minutes and three steps to administer.

Why a Cognitive Screening May be Necessary

Since cognitive decline with age is a normal occurrence, it’s not uncommon for a cognitive screening to become a routine event. This could happen during an annual checkup or physical so any diminishing mental capabilities are tracked and treated. Furthermore, if you’ve shown signs of weakening cognitive function, like worsening memory or brain fog, your doctor may want to assess the decline and schedule more diagnostic examination.

This is especially true if you have a personal or family health history with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease or another condition that can cause cognitive impairment. Even mild cognitive impairment can be a symptom of these more serious illnesses, and a personal or family history with them can make further testing required.

Does Medicare Cover Them?

It’s a great idea to get at least one cognitive assessment each year because Medicare covers it in full as part of your annual wellness visit. Just make sure you request it as part of your wellness visit since it’s required to be given as part of it, but isn’t always.

If you miss that wellness visit or your doctor thinks you need a follow-up visit for your cognition, Medicare Part B will cover a separate appointment with your regular health care provider or a specialist. During this meeting, the health care provider will be able to fully review your cognitive function, diagnose any degeneration or ailments you may be experiencing, and create a personalized care plan for you. Once you’ve met your Part B deductible, you’ll owe 20 percent of the Medicare-approved amount.

With the commonality of age-related cognitive decline and the availability of coverage for assessments, you should be getting a screening annually. Not only is it an opportunity to maintain your cognitive function as you get older, but it can also help you catch concerning signs early. Whether you’re feeling more forgetful lately or you have a family history of dementia, keeping an eye on your mental and cognitive function is a critical component to healthy aging.

Just like you, your health is one of a kind. What works for one person may not for another, so the information in these articles should not take the place of an expert opinion. Before making significant lifestyle or diet changes, please consult your primary care physician or nutritionist. Your doctor will know your own health best.

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