Hill NL, Bratlee-Whitaker E, Jang H, Bhargava S, Sillner AY, Do J, Mogle J. Patient-provider communication about cognition and the role of memory concerns: a descriptive study. BMC geriatr. 2023 May 31;23(1):342. doi: 10.1186/s12877-023-04053-3

BACKGROUND: Early identification of cognitive impairment is an important part of health promotion in aging. However, many older adults do not seek help for cognitive problems until their ability to function independently is substantially impacted. The purpose of this descriptive study was to explore older adults’ experiences with patient-provider communication specific to cognition as well as compare barriers and facilitators between those with and without memory concerns.

METHODS: We conducted an online survey with individuals aged 65+ years (n=409; mean age=71.4(4.73); 54% female; 79% non-Hispanic White), purposively sampled to include those with and without memory concerns. Questionnaires included measures of subjective memory decline (SMD), memory concerns, past healthcare experiences, as well as open-ended questions regarding patient-provider communication about cognition. Content analysis was used to code open-ended responses. Logistic regression was used to examine differences in facilitators and barriers to communication among three groups: no SMD (n=130), SMD without memory concerns (n=143), and SMD with memory concerns (n=136).

RESULTS: Only 16.6% of participants reported discussing cognition with a healthcare provider. Of the remaining 83.4%, approximately two-thirds would be open to such discussions in certain circumstances, most frequently if they had worsening memory problems. Over half of participants reported that their provider had never offered cognitive testing. Compared to the no SMD and SMD without memory concerns groups, participants reporting SMD with memory concerns were more likely to: 1) discuss cognition if their healthcare provider initiated the conversation. Furthermore, participants with memory concerns were more likely, and 2) to avoid discussions of cognitive problems due to fears of losing independence.

CONCLUSIONS: We found that most participants, including those reporting SMD with memory concerns, had never discussed cognition with their healthcare providers. Patient-reported barriers and facilitators to communication about cognition differed in several areas based on SMD status and the presence or absence of memory concerns. Consideration of these differences can guide future efforts to improve early identification of subtle cognitive changes that would benefit from further monitoring or intervention.

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