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Study seeks new way to assess cognitive health

Cognitive function and its importance in decision-making later in life has been the driving force behind a new research report aimed at looking into better ways of assessing cognitive health.

Cognitive function is important when making decisions later in life (Source: Shutterstock)
Cognitive function is important when making decisions later in life (Source: Shutterstock)

Conducted by consumer lobby group National Seniors in conjunction with Flinders Business School and the University of Western Australia, the study ‘Better ways of assessing cognitive health’ provides insight into the attitudes of older Australians to ongoing cognitive screening, and the practicalities of doing it, through research conducted across two stages.

The first stage of the study examined a survey of self-reported levels of cognitive function and attitudes towards screening, financial literacy and decision-making networks; while the second stage utilised a new innovative in home online cognitive assessment known as Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery (CANTAB).

National Seniors Research Director Professor John McCallum says that better understanding the attitudes of older Australians aged over 55 when it comes to cognitive screening and the impact of cognitive health on financial decision-making is important because those types of decisions are often made as people age and outcomes can majorly impact their quality of life.

“We wanted to assess alternative ways of screening for cognitive function; if people would use services if they were available; and where they would prefer to have the services delivered and by whom,” Professor McCallum says.

“The study revealed that cognitive health, age and level of education are important factors in how people cope with financial decision-making and maintaining financial sufficiency as they age.”

Professor McCallum adds that more than half of the research participants preferred the online assessments as a type of evaluation, which could now lead to a new method of screening to allow older Australians to assess their own cognitive function.

“Early detection [of cognitive impairment] is critical as it allows people to be better prepared to make choices or adjustments before cognition is significantly impaired,” he says.

“[The research] also shows that regular cognitive screening of older community members is warranted, especially given the positive response to the online assessments.”

The research report also reveals that while cognitive decline can occur without people being aware, a number of Australians are self-diagnosing cognitive decline when there is none, leading to early and unnecessary disengagement from activities and responsibilities.

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