Piloting an innovative tool to detect cognitive decline

April 5, 2023

  • Early detection of cognitive decline is essential to improving outcomes and providing patients and families with more options for treatment and support.
  • Providence is partnering with health technology company Neurotrack to pilot a tool designed to rapidly diagnose cognitive conditions.
  • The pilot will occur in neurology and primary care clinics in Seattle and Los Angeles, with the goal of collecting outcomes data to validate the effectiveness of the tool.

Dementia is a public health crisis. Today, nearly 50 million people worldwide live with dementias such as Alzheimer's Disease, and recent research suggests this number could triple by 2050. This widespread disease has a profound impact on individuals, families, and society, contributing to significant emotional, physical, and financial burden, and further challenging caregivers and the healthcare system.

A partnership between Providence and health technology company Neurotrack is responding to these challenges. By piloting an innovative tool designed to rapidly detect subtle changes in cognition, Providence researchers hope to improve healthcare providers’ ability to identify cognitive impairment early and provide treatment plans, future planning, and comprehensive care and support needed to make a difference when it matters most.

Benefits and challenges to early identification of cognitive decline

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, roughly 10 to 15 percent of people with mild cognitive impairment are diagnosed with dementia each year. Although there is no known cure for dementia, early detection is essential to improving outcomes and providing patients and families with more options for treatment and support.

Yet while healthcare providers know the importance of early detection, access to testing that can identify cognitive challenges can be scarce. Primary care clinics are often unequipped to effectively evaluate patients for dementia, and the costs and time requirements for cognitive tests have created barriers for both providers and patients. As a result, diagnosis is too often delayed until the later stages of dementia. The Neurotrack tool offers a promising potential solution to these challenges.

A 3-minute screening for cognitive decline

Historically, the process of screening for cognitive decline required up to 15 minutes of clinic staff time to administer, as well as resources and expertise to interpret results. Neurotrack offers the ability to quickly and proactively screen for early signs of cognitive decline during a typical annual wellness visit or when patients or families voice concerns.

The 3-Minute Cognitive Screening can be administered in the exam room with minimal clinic staff oversight. The first-line assessment checks key aspects of brain health, including processing speed, as well as working memory and executive function. Utilizing large data sets and algorithms developed through machine learning, it scores instantly and objectively. If the results show impairment, providers are encouraged to complete more extensive cognitive assessments.

Neurotrack will also offer its expert-reviewed educational content and unique health coaching service designed to help individuals understand and reduce their cognitive risk factors.

Testing the Neurotrack tool in real-world settings

Phase 1 of Providence’s partnership with Neurotrack will focus on piloting the tool in neurology and primary care clinics in Seattle and Los Angeles, with the goal of collecting outcomes data to validate the effectiveness of the tool, refine its algorithm, and publish research on the findings to improve timely and accurate detection of mild cognitive impairment and dementia and speed access to comprehensive cognitive care. In a second phase, the partnership will expand to additional neurology, geriatric, and primary care locations.

According to Dr. Nancy Isenberg, medical director of the Center for Healthy Aging at Providence Swedish, “if proven effective, this tool could vastly improve our ability to identify mild cognitive impairment and dementia at an earlier stage in a greater number of our patients, as well as to implement pathways to slow progression of the impairment and enhance quality of life across our aging population."

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