Jan 19, 2017

How to Test for Dementia

Dementia is a term used to describe a variety of symptoms that accompany a decline in a person’s mental capabilities. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s Disease, which accounts for up to 80 percent of cases. Dementia can be the result of a stroke, a vitamin deficiency, or health difficulties such as thyroid problems.

Diagnosis and Dementia

Dementia presents a diagnostic challenge to doctors because there is not one single test for dementia. In contrast to most disorders and diseases that are diagnosed with a single blood test or single examination, dementia is diagnosed using the results of the following combination of data:

  • A comprehensive patient medical history
  • Laboratory testing
  • A physical examination
  • An assessment of changes in the patient’s daily functioning and thinking

Even with this collection of information, it can be challenging to diagnose the type of dementia present. In these cases, a referral to a geriatric psychologist or a neurologist may be necessary for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Tests Commonly Used to Screen for Dementia

The exact selection of tests used to screen for dementia will depend upon a person’s symptoms and the level of symptomatic severity. Below is a look at the five most common tests used to screen for a dementia diagnosis:

1) Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale – Cognitive (ADAS-Cog)

The ADAS-Cog is a comprehensive 11-part test that is appropriate for use with people who display mild symptoms of dementia. The ADAS-Cog usually takes about 30 minutes to administer and is known as the most effective short examinations of language skills and memory.

2) Mini-Mental Status Examination (MMSE)

The MMSE is the most widely used dementia screening tool. The MMSE takes only 5 minutes to administer and screens for deficiencies in reading, orientation, writing and short-term memory.

3) Neuropsychological Testing

This type of testing often includes the administration of a battery of tests by a neuropsychologist, or psychological specialist who is trained in the assessment of brain disorders. During the testing process, a patient’s reasoning, comprehension, and ability to recall information will be measured. Neuropsychological testing may take 2 or more hours to complete, and multiple visits may be required to complete the testing process.

4) Brain Imaging Techniques

These techniques help medical professionals assess changes to the brain in order to rule out the presence of tumors, strokes, and hydrocephalus. Common brain imaging techniques include:

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): 3-dimensional images of the brain show tissue loss patterns
  • Computed Tomography Scan (CT Scan): Multiple X-rays of the brain are taken from various angles to show brain changes
  • Positron Emission Tomography (PET): Injections of radioactive material help pinpoint brain emissions and blood flow

5) Radiological Testing

This type of testing involves taking standard X-rays to help rule out lung cancer and other serious health problems which may lead to brain tumors. Radiological testing is often recommended for patients who smoke.

Important Questions to Ask Your Doctor About the Dementia Testing Process

The process to test for dementia can be intimidating to some people. One of the best ways to increase your level of comfort with the testing process is to make a list of the questions and concerns that you have. Below is a short list of questions to ask your doctor before the testing process:

  • Which tests will you administer?
  • How long does the testing process take?
  • Who will administer the tests?
  • How should a patient prepare for the testing process?
  • Is the testing process painful or uncomfortable?
  • How will your office notify patients of test results and diagnoses?
  • When do patients receive their test results?
  • How much does the testing process cost?

Steps to Take After The Dementia Testing Process

After the testing process is complete, the doctor will gather the data obtained during all of your testing and interpret the test results. This test interpretation will help the doctor confirm the patient’s diagnosis and the particular type of dementia present.

For more information or support, contact Alzheimer’s Australia.

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