Cognitive functions comprise the brain processes relating to acquiring, storing, retrieving, and using information from both interior and exterior sources. Cognitive functions develop and change throughout childhood, level off through middle age, and begin to decline to various degrees with old age. These functions can be affected by various conditions, environmental factors, and diseases. As an employer, addressing cognitive health enables early remedial measures to keep employees at work, focused, and productive which, in turn, can lower overall health and wellness costs.
Cognitive functioning: What it is and why it’s important
Cognitive functions are higher-order brain processes that help us gather, process, and understand information. They include memory, perception, language, problem solving, and decision making. Cognitive functions are constantly changing and adapting to new information and situations throughout our lifetimes. Cognitive decline is normal as we age and simply means our brain doesn’t work as well as it used to. The ability to measure and monitor cognitive functions allows earlier detection of problems and faster treatment by providers.
Cognitive assessment improvements
With early detection, measures can be taken to stop or slow cognitive decline, prolonging the ability to function productively. There are medications, behavioral therapies, and modifications to home and work environments that can reduce the effects of cognitive decline. Cognitive assessments also can provide reassurance to those who are not experiencing decline. To monitor cognitive decline, it’s important to start with a baseline measurement — which is why cognitive testing is such an important part of employee health and wellness programs.
Advancements in technology have provided a quick and reliable method for self-testing cognitive function within five minutes versus lengthy face-to-face assessments that last 20 to 45 minutes by a provider. New technology also can deliver results immediately, securely, and privately. Results must be in a simple-to-understand format, color-coded, and include numerical scores. Additionally, there is a requirement for employees to securely and privately generate a provider letter explaining the assessment and results so remedial action can be performed.
One of the biggest concerns with cognitive screenings is privacy. Brain health issues are understandably sensitive for employees. Keeping personal information private is essential for earning and sustaining trust — a key aspect of health and wellness program success. It’s critical to have protocols in place to ensure the privacy of the data collected. The employee should be able to determine the next steps when results are known.
Getting the whole picture of employee health
Most employers conduct annual biometric screenings to establish a physical baseline so employees can understand their results and gauge their progress year-over-year. The time has come to add cognitive screenings to the mix. With both biometric screening and cognitive screening results in hand, there is an opportunity to educate employees about their overall health situation. If the employee wishes to share results with his or her provider, a more comprehensive picture can be employed to identify both physical and cognitive health issues and how they relate. For example, a biometric screening could identify and confirm low blood sugar which might be a factor in brain health.
If cognitive screenings are not yet a part of your health and wellness program, now is the time to explore — Impact Health can help.