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Alzheimer’s is a frightening disease, and not without reason. The thought of losing your memories, your relationships, your sense of self — it’s disturbing and painful on many levels.

We hear some people confess that they’d rather die of a heart attack than of Alzheimer’s disease, though of course they’d rather not have either.

Alzheimer’s is the most common cause of dementia — an umbrella term for all kinds of cognitive impairment — but it isn’t the only cause. Many diseases can affect a person’s ability to think, reason, and remember, and severity can range from mild cognitive impairment all the way to dementia.

In this post, we’ll talk about an innovative new development in the field of cognitive impairment screening. This test, called CognICA, offers a simple way to identify cognitive impairment early, whether it’s caused by Alzheimer’s or another disease. Earlier diagnosis means earlier treatment, which is why we’re excited to begin offering CognICA to our members.

Why We Need New Cognitive Screening

Alzheimer’s disease is now number seven in the top ten leading causes of death in the United States, and some studies estimate over 12 million people living with mild cognitive impairment. But until this point, we haven’t had very good screening options to catch signs of cognitive impairment early.

Because of the rushed environment of most modern medicine, cognitive screening tests often get pushed to the background unless patients request them or exhibit obvious symptoms. And even when these tests are administered, interpretation is subjective and challenging.

Many patients hesitate to request screening in the first place, even if they notice something’s off. Existing tests are difficult to schedule and time-consuming, often lasting all day, adding both stress and fatigue to an already anxious time. Plus, what if they get unfavorable results? Not everyone knows that treatments for various types of cognitive impairment (including Alzheimer’s) exist, so they don’t see any reason to undergo testing. They’d rather not know.

CognICA presents an opportunity to change the way we approach cognitive screening, offering more accuracy, less stress, and faster results.

What Is CognICA? 

CognICA stands for Cognetivity’s Integrative Cognitive Assessment, and it’s an FDA-approved tool to gauge cognition, or higher-level functioning. That may sound complicated, but CognICA takes a remarkably simple yet effective approach — recognizing pictures of animals. 

As children, some of the first things we learn to recognize are animals. It’s part of our core knowledge, independent of culture, language, and even education level. Animal recognition is hard-wired into our brains. 

Alzheimer’s and other dementias act almost as mental Benjamin Button diseases, regressing cognition through the more complicated learning and memories of adulthood all the way back to the simplest ideas of childhood. CognICA taps into that simple, core knowledge to identify early signs of cognitive impairment, even in the absence of other symptoms.

The test is simple, noninvasive, and short — it takes five minutes. Patients don’t need a referral or a separate office visit. They take the test right there on an iPad, which shows a series of 100 images: 50 animals, and 50 non-animals. The images flash quickly on the screen, and the test taker reacts when they see an animal. 

Using an algorithm based on accuracy and speed, CognICA then provides an immediate cognitive score. The score may reassure patients, or it may indicate the need for further testing. 

How CognICA Differs From Other Tests 

A major difference between CognICA and other cognitive tests is its lack of language dependence. Physicians can administer CognICA regardless of a patient’s mother tongue, avoiding the confusion and skewed results that can occur with language-dependent testing. Even differences in culture and education level don’t affect CognICA’s accuracy, since identifying animals is a universal human activity.

Unlike existing cognitive tests, patients can’t improve their CognICA score by taking the test multiple times. There’s no learning factor here. A person’s reaction time and recognition don’t change the more they take the test, so physicians can administer CognICA as often as necessary to monitor cognitive health without worrying about inaccurate scores. 

CognICA provides immediate and accurate results without needing extensive, subjective interpretation. The test engages areas of the brain affected in the early stages of dementia to accurately pinpoint cognitive impairment as soon as possible.  

What Can You Do With an Abnormal Result? 

Though we sometimes hear “what’s the point” regarding catching dementia or Alzheimer’s early, early detection matters. 

For one, treatments for Alzheimer’s and other dementias do exist, so you’ll be able to consider therapies and make decisions to slow progression right away. You can explore all the options for your treatment plan, start an earlier relationship with a neurologist, and perhaps get involved in new trials. 

You’ll also have opportunities that many haven’t gotten in the past. You’ll be able to create awareness in your family before significant symptoms start to show up. This can be incredibly helpful to reduce frustration and confusion before the disease progresses. You’ll also be able to make lifestyle changes that could prevent or delay disease progression.

These factors can also help accelerate innovation. By catching cognitive impairment earlier, we have greater opportunity to investigate causes and develop new treatments that address dementia in its initial stages.

Who Should (and Shouldn’t) Be Tested? 

We like to perform tests that have no risk or hassle but great potential benefit regularly to help us evaluate each member’s health over time. 

For example, we recommend regular blood work, EKGs, blood pressure screenings, and body composition testing. CognICA fits nicely into this category of testing. So while we don’t screen for some conditions unless there’s an issue, we’re incorporating CognICA into our annual physicals based on members’ ages or interest.

We may recommend CognICA for members age 50 or older, but we’ll also be happy to administer the test to younger members who want it. We’re excited to have a test that’s so quick and easy that there’s very little reason not to use it. 

Infographic: The CognICA Test: Everything You Need to Know

Interested in CognICA? Let Us Know

If you’re interested in adding CognICA to your screenings, talk to your medical team! We’re more than happy to share additional information and set up a time for you to take the test. It takes five minutes, so it’s not something you’ll have to plan your whole day around. 

CognICA is a huge step forward in the battle against Alzheimer’s and other dementias, and we’re thrilled to have such an important tool available for our members!

2420 West Mississippi Avenue, Tampa, Florida 33629 Telephone: (813) 350-9090 Fax: (813) 443-5783