How is dementia diagnosed?

How is dementia diagnosed?

How is dementia diagnosed?

It can be challenging to determine what type of dementia the patient is experiencing. Many of the symptoms of dementia are similar and the types are loosely grouped. For someone to be diagnosed with dementia, they need to have at least two of their mental functions impaired to such a point that their daily life is impacted in some way. Bear in mind, these are two of the core functions of their brain such as issues with memory, skills, ability to pay attention and focus, language, problem-solving and their visual perception.  

The doctor will typically begin with a review of the patient’s medical history and symptoms, followed by a physical examination. The patient or caregiver will also be asked questions about the symptoms present.

There is not a single test used to diagnose dementia. Therefore, doctors will likely run a number of examinations and tests in order to accurately diagnose the patient.

These include:

Cognitive and neuropsychological tests

This involves evaluating the patient’s thinking (cognitive) abilities. There are several tests that can be used to measure the patient’s thinking skills such as orientation, memory, judgment and reasoning, attention and language skills. These tests are normally performance-based assessments and evaluations through written or oral tests between a mental health professional and patient.

Neurological evaluations

This involves the doctor evaluating the patient’s memory, visual perception, attention, balance, movement, senses and reflexes through a variety of tests.

Brain scans

  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT (computed tomography) scans – These are used to see if there is evidence of a tumour, stroke or bleeding in the brain.
  • PET (positron emission tomography) scans – These allow the doctor to see the patterns of the brain activity and detect the hallmark factor of Alzheimer’s disease, being the amyloid protein present in the brain.

Laboratory tests

These include conducting blood tests (the doctor will take a sample of blood and send it to a laboratory for testing), which can detect is there are any physical issues that may be affecting the functioning of the brain. Such as a deficiency of vitamin B-12, or a thyroid gland that is not working properly. In some cases, spinal fluid can also be examined to detect infection, markers of degenerative diseases or inflammation.

Psychiatric evaluation

A psychiatric evaluation is conducted by a mental healthcare professional, this can determine if a mental health condition such as depression is causing the symptoms or contributing to them.

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