Thinking about Thinking™ – Should Cognition be the 6th Vital Sign?

This morning in health settings all over the world blood pressure, respiration, temperature and pulse are being measured, and in may places persons are being asked about their level of pain on a ten-point scale or by pointing at a picture. This information gives a present snapshot of our health and tracked over time provides useful information for ourselves and our health professionals. The signs are easy to do, easy to explain and universal.

Is it time for cognition—our thinking—to make this list? We don’t think of our brains in the same way as the rest of our body but for most of us it is our biggest organ. Our memory, executive function and processing are all vital to help us manage other health conditions. We also know that with population aging on a scale never seen in human history there is the related risk of Alzheimer’s and other dementia as well as problems with thinking in older persons that are more easily explained, and lives improved.

The medical profession has rightly been cautious toward adopting routine cognitive testing in the elderly population, but cognitive testing within the Medicare Annual Wellness visit has been picking up steam.

Given the stakes, tracking our health in many domains just makes sense.

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