The American Academy of Neurology is recommending that everyone over the age of 65 be tested yearly for mild cognitive impairment. The accumulated results of an annual, three-minute test can alert eldercare providers to a developing problem and help to improve outcomes, the group said in a statement released this week.

The recommendation heralds the release of an AAN quality measurement set published Thursday online in the journal Neurology. The idea is to improve the quality of neurologic care in an aging population, said Norman L. Foster, M.D., University of Utah in Salt Lake City, a fellow of the academy.

“We cannot expect people to report their own memory and thinking problems because they may not recognize that they are having problems or they may not share them with their doctors,” he said. “Annual assessments will not only help identify mild cognitive impairment early, it will also help physicians more closely monitor possible worsening of the condition.”

Early diagnosis can help to catch forms of cognitive decline that may be reversible. This includes those caused by sleep problems, depression or medications, the group said. In the case of irreversible cognitive impairment, the AAN quality measurement set recommends that clinicians measure how frequently people are given information about their condition so they can take steps to plan for their care and monitor their cognitive health.

“Since thinking skills are the most sensitive indicator of brain function and they can be tested cost-effectively, this creates an enormous opportunity to improve neurologic care,” Foster concluded.