Key Takeaways

  • If you have been enrolled in Medicare Part B for over 12 months, you are eligible for an Annual Wellness Visit with your primary care provider.

  • Cognitive screenings are beneficial for many people, especially if you or your loved ones are concerned about any recent changes in your memory or even if you just want a baseline evaluation.

  • Your cognitive health can also be impacted by treatable health conditions like a vitamin deficiency, which a cognitive screening can help to identify.

Are you interested in having your cognition assessed? You are not alone—AARP found that over half of US adults have indicated wanting a baseline cognitive screening, but many have never requested one. Below are some resources to help you get started on requesting a cognitive screening at your Annual Wellness Visit.

What is an Annual Wellness Visit?

The Annual Wellness Visit is a yearly visit with your primary care provider (PCP) that is covered if you have Medicare Part B. You qualify for an Annual Wellness Visit if you have had Medicare Part B for over 12 months and have not received an Annual Wellness Visit within the last year.

Unsure if you qualify for Medicare? The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) website is a great tool that can help you understand the qualification requirements.

What is a cognitive assessment?

Our brains perform different functions like thinking, remembering, learning, communicating, and making decisions. Collectively, these functions are known as 'cognition.' Cognitive evaluations are a way for health care professionals to measure your brain's functioning and cognition to address any issues that you may be experiencing. 

The good news is that some cognitive evaluations take only a few minutes and have no risks associated with them.

How do I know if I should request a cognitive evaluation?

If any of the following applies to you, consider asking for a cognitive evaluation at your visit:

  • You are interested in having a baseline evaluation
  • You live alone
  • You or your loved ones are concerned about any changes in your memory or are thinking about your cognitive symptoms
  • You notice daily tasks start to feel challenging
  • You notice disruptions in your daily routine
  • You take several medications every day
  • You currently smoke or consider yourself a former smoker
  • You have a history of depression
  • You have a history of traumatic brain injuries
  • You or your family have a history of stroke or other cardiovascular issues (e.g., high blood pressure)
  • You have untreated hearing loss
  • You notice changes in your vision
  • You have a family history of dementia

For a more extensive list, visit the CDC website.

Benefits of cognitive evaluation

  • It may identify treatable health issues that are influencing your cognition. There are health issues that can influence your cognition. If these are adequately treated, it may result in a reversal of these changes.
    • Examples include depression, vitamin B12 deficiency, and medication interactions
  • It allows for a baseline evaluation. A baseline cognitive evaluation is a way to measure how your cognitive functioning is now so that you can objectively see if there are changes in the future.
  • The potential for early diagnosis allows for planning. While a cognitive evaluation cannot diagnose someone with dementia, it can help providers recognize if a referral to a specialist is needed. Proper referral may lead to early diagnosis which allows individuals to plan ahead and better understand their treatment and care options.

How to start the conversation about a cognitive evaluation with your provider

  • Write it down. If you want a cognitive evaluation because you are noticing changes in your thinking abilities, keeping a list of all the points you would like to discuss with your provider is a good idea.
  • Bring a family member or friend. Bringing someone to your Annual Wellness Visit may help ease your nerves. Additionally, family members or friends may be able to provide your doctor with information that can help them understand the changes you may be experiencing. Additionally, some more comprehensive cognitive assessments require family members to indicate if they have noticed changes in your thinking abilities.
  • Call ahead. If you already have your Annual Wellness Visit scheduled, it may be beneficial to call your provider's office to ask if they are able to administer a cognitive evalation during your visit. This will allow your health care team to properly prepare for your visit and allot the necessary time to complete the assessment.