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How Is Dementia Identified?

Dementia Diagnosis: Patient History

In order to make a dementia diagnosis, doctors often begin their examination by asking questions about the patient's history. For example, they may ask how and when symptoms developed and about the patient's overall medical condition. They may also ask about a family history of similar symptoms along with any medication the person is taking.
Doctors also may try to evaluate the patient's emotional state, although patients with dementia often are unaware of or in denial about how their disease is affecting them. Family members may also deny the existence of the disease because they do not want to accept the diagnosis and because, at least in the beginning, Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia can resemble normal aging. Therefore, additional steps are necessary to confirm or rule out a dementia diagnosis.

Dementia Diagnosis: Physical Exam

A physical examination can help rule out treatable causes of dementia and identify signs of stroke or other disorders that can contribute to dementia. A physical examination can also identify signs of other illnesses, such as heart disease or kidney failure that can overlap with dementia.
If a patient is taking medications that may be causing or contributing to his or her symptoms, the doctor may suggest stopping or replacing some medications to see if the symptoms go away.
Doctors will also perform a neurological examination, which will assess balance, sensory function, reflexes, and other functions, to identify signs of conditions that may affect the patient's dementia diagnosis or are treatable with drugs.

Tests Used in Diagnosing Dementia

Examples of tests that are used to make a dementia diagnosis include:
  • Cognitive and neuropsychological tests
  • Brain scans (MRI or CT scan)
  • Laboratory tests
  • Psychiatric evaluations
  • Pre-symptomatic testing.
(You can learn more about these specific tests for dementia by clicking on the eMedTV article Tests for Dementia.)
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