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Understanding & Diagnosing Dementia

Dementia can be confusing, because it is not one single specific disease, but rather a group of symptoms that can affect memory, thinking skills, and social abilities seriously enough that it interferes with the ability to function from day to day. There are many different causes and types of dementia, and depending on the case, some symptoms can be alleviated, while other cases are progressive.

How is Dementia Diagnosed?

Diagnosing a patient with dementia and then determining which type of dementia they have can be a challenge. In order to be classified as dementia, at least two essential mental functions must be impaired enough to interfere with daily life. These mental functions include memory, the ability to focus and pay attention, language, reasoning, problem-solving, and visual perception. To properly diagnose dementia, a doctor will take a complete medical history, review all symptoms, and conduct a thorough exam. While there is not one specific test used to diagnose dementia, doctors usually run a number of procedures that may include

  1. Neurological exam. A neurologist will evaluate the patient?s neurological functioning including:
  • Sight
  • Hearing
  • Vision
  • Language use
  • Reflexes
  • Balance
  • Movement
  • Memory
  • Attention
  • Problem-solving
  1. Cognitive and neuropsychological tests. A doctor may perform tests to evaluate a patient?s cognitive function, or thinking ability. These tests will measure a range of thinking skills such as reasoning, judgment, language, attention, orientation, and memory.
  2. Psychiatric exam. A mental health expert may conduct an exam to determine whether depression or another mental health problem may be contributing to or causing symptoms.
  3. Brain imaging. Imaging tests of the brain may also be used to examine how the patient?s brain is working and find issues that may be related to impaired function and activity. These may include
  • A PET scan, or positron emission tomography scan, may be used to look at patterns of brain activity and signs that amyloid protein, a marker for Alzheimer?s disease, is being deposited in the brain.
  • A CT scan, or computer tomography scan, may be used to create images of the inside of the brain with X-rays and computers in order to look for signs of stroke, tumor, bleeding, or hydrocephalus.
  • A MRI scan, or magnetic resonance imaging scan, may be used to examine the structure of the brain and also look for signs of tumor, stroke, hydrocephalus, or bleeding.
  1. Laboratory tests. A doctor may also perform blood tests to find out if there are physical problems such as an underactive thyroid or vitamin B-12 deficiency that may be affecting the patient?s brain function. Spinal fluid may also be taken to look for signs of infection, inflammation, or a degenerative disease.

Once the doctor determines if a dementia exists, the next step is to determine which type of dementia it is. That will determine what treatment, if any, can be considered. If someone you love has been diagnosed with dementia, you may want to consider some of the many in-home care options offered by the exceptional staff of Specialty Care Services. We have experience in helping families cope with all types of dementia, including Alzheimer?s disease. Reach out to us for more information today.



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