In a previous blog about memory loss in the elderly, we briefly touched on the topic of the importance of early detection of dementia.

Although a single test doesn’t exist to prove that a person has Alzheimer’s, which is a form of dementia, a diagnosis can be made through a thorough assessment that takes into account all of the possible causes of this disease.

Today, we want to discuss the various ways that a patient can be evaluated for dementia.

Brain imaging – This type of assessment is very standard when determining whether or not a person has dementia, and consists of a medical examination that includes structural imaging with CT scans and MRIs. Brain imaging is used to help rule out other conditions that cause similar symptoms to Alzheimer’s.

Neurological exams – During neurological examinations, the doctor closely evaluates a person to look for signs of any impairment to memory or thinking. This is done through testing of a person’s reflexes, muscle strength and tone, eye movement, speech, sensation, and coordination. Neurological exams sometimes utilize brain imaging as well.

Information gathering – Answering a long list of questions from the doctor should be expected during a dementia test. The physician will likely take the following steps:

  • Review all of your loved one’s medications
  • Ask questions regarding diet and nutrition
  • Check pulse, temperature and blood pressure
  • Collect blood and urine samples for laboratory testing
  • Listen to lungs and heart

This range of information, collected from both laboratory tests and physical exams, can help identify health issues that can cause symptoms of dementia.

Medical history – During a medical assessment, your loved one’s physician will review his or her medical history to learn about current and past illnesses, in addition to any medication that he or she is taking. Furthermore, the doctor also will ask questions pertaining to key medical conditions that have affected other family members. By learning your loved one’s medical history, his or her doctor will have a better understanding of whether or not dementia is a possibility.

Mental status exam – When a physician conducts a mental status exam, the patient is tested through a series of activities such as counting backward from 100 by 7s, drawing a clock face, repeating a series of words, and stating the current day and year. In addition to these basic assessments, there are other tests that have been developed in order to help diagnose dementia, such as the Addenbrooke’s Cognitive Examination, which distinguishes Alzheimer’s from frontotemporal dementia.

If you feel that an elderly family member is showing signs and symptoms of dementia, contact his or her primary care physician to schedule an appointment. These tests can help the doctor prescribe the proper treatments or medications in order to improve the symptoms that your loved one is experiencing.


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