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Q: My mother is showing some early signs of Alzheimer's and a friend asked if anyone had suggested a "brief cognitive assessment." What kind of test is this and can we (myself and/or my mom) request it or does her physician need to be the one to determine a need for it? I would love more information on this, so I can prepare for this discussion with my mom.

A brief cognitive assessment is a short evaluation that checks your brain for any cognitive impairments. There are several ways that a healthcare provider can administer a brief cognitive assessment. Questions and concerns about cognitive functioning may be discussed, a short verbal or written test may be conducted, or they may directly observe interactions. It is not a fully diagnostic workup, but this brief assessment is crucial for early detection and diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. It's normal to feel nervous about this sometimes-sensitive topic but there are steps you and your mom can take to have a productive conversation with her doctor.

If you have concerns about her thinking or memory, do not hesitate to initiate a conversation. You do not need to wait until her physician brings it up. According to this year's Alzheimer's Association Facts and Figures report, a recent survey conducted found a disconnect between seniors and primary care physicians regarding who they believe is responsible for initiating a brief cognitive assessment. A large majority of seniors expect their physicians to recommend a cognitive assessment as needed, but physicians are waiting for seniors to report symptoms or concerns.

Visit for more information about the brief cognitive assessment as well as a checklist to prepare for the discussion with her doctor. For additional resources or to join an Alzheimer's Association class or weekly/monthly support group on Maui, please call 808.591.2771, ext. 8235. Support groups are held on an ongoing basis at Maui Memorial Medical Center and the next one takes place on Tuesday, July 16, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.