What is Involved in a Dementia Diagnosis?

Erin J. Hill
Erin J. Hill
Medical professionals need good empathy and listening skills when assessing patients with dementia.
Medical professionals need good empathy and listening skills when assessing patients with dementia.

There are two main parts of a dementia diagnosis. The first is to test the patient’s general health and to take blood samples and other specimens to determine if there are any underlying physical causes for mental symptoms. The second is to take down the person’s family history and discuss any mental issues that have been going on. Dementia can only be diagnosed if the patient is experiencing memory loss in combination with at least one other common symptom.

There are various types of dementia, with Alzheimer's being the most common.
There are various types of dementia, with Alzheimer's being the most common.

The primary factors doctors look for to make a dementia diagnosis are both a lack of memory and at least one other indicator of decreased cognitive function. Signs that the brain is no longer functioning normally may include impaired speech and language skills, impaired motor ability when there is no physical reason, decreased recognition of common objects or people, and a lack of abstract thinking skills. These should be present with no physical cause of symptoms.

Some elderly patients have severe depression that can be mistaken for dementia.
Some elderly patients have severe depression that can be mistaken for dementia.

Conditions which should be ruled out before a dementia diagnosis can be made may include brain tumor, injury to the brain, and delirium, which is a condition that is caused by other illnesses or conditions. Conditions that may contribute to delirium are cancer, infections, and drug abuse. Many of the same symptoms may be present with this condition as with dementia, but there will always be an underlying physical cause to explain them.

Reading is a good way to stay mentally active, which is important for managing dementia.
Reading is a good way to stay mentally active, which is important for managing dementia.

Sometimes a scan of the brain may be done to affirm a dementia diagnosis. There are some tests which may show abnormalities in brain function. Color coded visuals may be used to show where certain brain chemicals are present in excessive amounts or not present in high enough numbers. They may also be able to display lack of brain tissue or dead cells.

Dementia can only be diagnosed if the patient is experiencing memory loss in combination with at least one other common symptom.
Dementia can only be diagnosed if the patient is experiencing memory loss in combination with at least one other common symptom.

In some cases, elderly patients who exhibit all signs of dementia are actually healthy and have a severe form of depression called pseudodementia. This is a condition which may be caused by a combination of a chemical imbalance and an elderly person’s own fears, anxiety, and stress about getting older and facing death. Treatments may be available for this condition, and can include antidepressants and therapy.

The symptoms of pseudodementia mirror those of true dementia and may include confusion and poor self care.
The symptoms of pseudodementia mirror those of true dementia and may include confusion and poor self care.

Once a dementia diagnosis is made, treatment should be began right away. There are various types of dementia, the most well known being Alzheimer’s disease. Medications are available which may help slow down mental decline and allow normal functioning for several years. There is no cure for true dementia.

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    • Medical professionals need good empathy and listening skills when assessing patients with dementia.
      Medical professionals need good empathy and listening skills when assessing patients with dementia.
    • There are various types of dementia, with Alzheimer's being the most common.
      There are various types of dementia, with Alzheimer's being the most common.
    • Some elderly patients have severe depression that can be mistaken for dementia.
      Some elderly patients have severe depression that can be mistaken for dementia.
    • Reading is a good way to stay mentally active, which is important for managing dementia.
      Reading is a good way to stay mentally active, which is important for managing dementia.
    • Dementia can only be diagnosed if the patient is experiencing memory loss in combination with at least one other common symptom.
      Dementia can only be diagnosed if the patient is experiencing memory loss in combination with at least one other common symptom.
    • The symptoms of pseudodementia mirror those of true dementia and may include confusion and poor self care.
      The symptoms of pseudodementia mirror those of true dementia and may include confusion and poor self care.