Screening for cognitive impairment should be part of multidisciplinary care for stroke survivors, the American Heart Association says in a new scientific statement.
“Cognitive impairment after stroke is very common, is associated with other post-stroke outcomes, and often has significant impact on the quality of life,” Nada El Husseini, MD, MHSc, chair of the scientific statement writing group, told this news organization.
“It is important to screen stroke survivors for cognitive impairment as well as for associated comorbidities such as mood and sleep disorders,” said Dr. El Husseini, associate professor of neurology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.
The scientific statement was published online in Stroke. It’s the first to specifically focus on the cognitive impairment resulting from an overt stroke (ischemic or hemorrhagic).
‘Actionable’ considerations for care
The writing group performed a “scoping” review of the literature on the prevalence, diagnosis, and management of poststroke cognitive impairment (PSCI) to provide a framework for “actionable considerations” for clinical practice as well as to highlight gaps needing additional studies, Dr. El Husseini explained.
PSCI, ranging from mild to severe, occurs in up to 60% of stroke survivors in the first year after stroke; yet, it is often underreported and underdiagnosed, the writing group notes.
Up to 20% of stroke survivors who experience mild cognitive impairment fully recover cognitive function, and cognitive recovery is most likely within the first 6 months after a stroke.
However, improvement in cognitive impairment without return to prestroke levels is more frequent than is complete recovery. As many as one in three stroke survivors may develop dementia within 5 years of stroke.
The writing group also notes that PSCI is often associated with other conditions, including physical disability, sleep disorders, behavioral and personality changes, depression, and other neuropsychological changes – each of which may contribute to lower quality of life.
Currently, there is no “gold standard” for cognitive screening following stroke, but several brief cognitive screening tests, including the Mini–Mental State Examination and the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, are widely used to identify cognitive impairment after stroke.
The statement also highlights the importance of assessing cognitive changes over time after stroke. Stroke survivors who experience unexplained difficulties with cognitive-related activities of daily living, following care instructions, or providing a reliable health history may be candidates for additional cognitive screening.
Manage risk factors to prevent repeat stroke
“Anticipatory guidance regarding home and driving safety and, return to work (if applicable) along with interdisciplinary collaboration among different medical and ancillary specialists in the diagnosis and management of cognitive impairment is key for the holistic care of stroke survivors,” Dr. El Husseini told this news organization.
The multidisciplinary poststroke health care team could include neurologists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, nurses, neuropsychologists, gerontologists, and primary care providers.
“Because recurrent stroke is strongly associated with the development of cognitive impairment and dementia, prevention of recurrent strokes should be sought to decrease that risk,” Dr. El Husseini said. This includes addressing stroke risk factors, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and atrial fibrillation.
The writing group says research is needed in the future to determine how cognitive impairment develops after stroke and the impact of nonbrain factors, including infection, frailty, and social factors.
Further research is also needed to determine best practices for cognitive screening after stroke, including the development and use of screening instruments that consider demographic, cultural, and linguistic factors in determining “normal” function.
“Perhaps the most pressing need, however, is the development of effective and culturally relevant treatments for poststroke cognitive impairment,” Dr. El Husseini said in a news release.
“We hope to see big enough clinical trials that assess various techniques, medications, and lifestyle changes in diverse groups of patients that may help improve cognitive function,” she added.
This scientific statement was prepared by the volunteer writing group on behalf of the AHA Stroke Council, the Council on Cardiovascular Radiology and Intervention, the Council on Hypertension, and the Council on Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health.