How is dementia diagnosed? | Avalon Memory Care

How is dementia diagnosed?

Dementia is not just a single disease. It’s an umbrella term for various medical conditions that include Alzheimer’s Disease, Lewy Body Dementia, Vascular Dementia, Frontotemporal Dementia, and other diseases like Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases. These conditions cause a decline in cognitive skills and increasingly affect a person’s abilities and behavior over time.

Dementia is not the only cause of memory problems. Depression, sleep apnea, delirium, medication side effects, thyroid problems, vitamin deficiency, or other conditions could be causing cognitive problems, and these conditions are usually treatable. When a person is undergoing medical testing, the medical team is not just looking for dementia; they’re looking for numerous other problems that cause memory loss.

Medical History

The first tool used to find the cause of dementia symptoms is a thorough medical history. The doctor takes detailed notes about past and current medical conditions, medications, and family history before moving on to a physical exam.

Physical Exam

This exam is a routine physical that includes a urinalysis and blood work. A physician will ask detailed questions about a patient’s symptoms:  What changes in sleep, behavior, and memory are happening? When did they begin? How often do they happen? Have they intensified over time?

Because the physician will need a complete picture of a person’s symptoms, they may also ask a family member for input or observations.

Neurological Exam

If necessary, a primary care doctor will refer a patient to a neurologist, who will look for other conditions that impair memory, like a stroke, Parkinson’s disease, or brain tumors. Neurological tests check a person’s reflexes, muscle strength, speech, coordination, and nerve sensation.

Mental Cognitive Tests

At some point, a practitioner will administer one or two mental cognitive tests to evaluate a person’s executive function, judgment, attention, and language skills. Two popular tests are the mini-mental state exam (MMSE) and the mini-cog test, both of which require a patient to follow instructions, do simple calculations and remember three words.

Psychiatric Evaluation

In addition to assessing cognitive status, the doctor will evaluate a person’s sense of well-being and look for depression or other mood disorders that might be causing the memory problems or behavioral changes.

Brain imaging

If necessary, a person might undergo imaging technology like magnetic resonance imagining (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) to rule out tumors, stroke, severe head trauma, and fluid in the brain—all of which cause symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s.

If a patient is diagnosed with dementia, a doctor can also use brain imaging to determine what kind of dementia is present. For instance, if an individual has high levels of beta-amyloid, it suggests a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Brain imaging also helps doctors track the progression of an illness over time.

Watch the following video to get a more detailed look at dementia diagnosis.

Believe it or not, there are advantages to early detection. The earlier the diagnosis, the more options a patient has to manage their symptoms and possibly benefit from treatments and/or clinical drug trials. An early diagnosis also allows individuals more time to plan for their future—they can actively participate in decisions about care, financial and legal matters, and explore various assisted living options.

Avalon Memory Care welcomes inquiries from individuals diagnosed with dementia who would like to begin planning for their long-term assisted living needs in Houston, Arlington, and Dallas. Call (972) 713-1383 to request a tour of our beautiful, home-like memory care locations.

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