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Dementia Testing: What to Expect

by Shannon, January 07, 2019

If you suspect that you or your loved one may have dementia, it can be a scary journey while navigating doctor appointments and testing. While there is not a definitive test that confirms a diagnosis of dementia, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, physicians ask questions and perform a variety of tests to eliminate the possibility of other illnesses or diseases.

Navigate the process of determining whether or not you or your loved one has dementia with less uncertainty by knowing what to expect.

The Initial Consultation

The first time you meet with a general practitioner or specialist, you may not know what to expect. However, you can prepare information and notes to ease the process.

Before your appointment, gather together the following materials:

  • A list of your current medications
  • A detailed list of any health problems you currently have or have had in the past
  • A journal of your symptoms, such as memory loss or physical pains
  • A list of questions you want to ask your physician

During this initial consultation, the physician will likely ask you a series of questions regarding your symptoms, family health history and daily routine. In some cases, your physician may need to ask you probing questions about your behavior and even your life circumstances. It is important to answer honestly so an appropriate diagnosis follows.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, common questions from your doctor may include:

  • What type of symptoms are you noticing?
  • When did your symptoms begin?
  • How often do you notice these symptoms?
  • Have you noticed if your symptoms have progressed or gotten worse over time or at certain times of the day?
  • Do you have any difficulty with your coordination or strength?
  • Are you struggling with your speech?
  • Have you noticed any differences in sensations or reflexes?

It is helpful to have a family member or friend with you during these visits so the physician can understand both the patient’s perception and a loved one’s perception regarding the symptoms.

Types of Dementia Tests

Although a test to confirm dementia has not yet come to life, physicians and specialists use a variety of tests to evaluate your symptoms. The first type of test includes a physical exam. While the doctor performs a routine physical, you may be asked about your use of alcohol, diet and nutrition. He or she will review your medications to determine any side effects that could be contributing to your current symptoms.

In addition, the routine physical exam includes listening to the heart and lungs, checking temperature, pulse and blood pressure and laboratory testing of your blood and urine.

The laboratory tests and physical exam helps your physician to identify any health issues, other than potentially dementia, that could be causing your dementia symptoms.

An additional screening for dementia testing includes a neurological exam. Physicians often employ this test to rule out the following:

  • Signs of a stroke
  • Brain tumors
  • Accumulation of fluid on the brain
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Illnesses that affect memory

During a neurological exam, you may have to undergo a brain imaging study, as well as tests that evaluate your coordination, strength and muscle tone, eye movement, speech, sensations and reflexes.

Since memory is a common dementia symptom, mental status tests can help specialists determine if your symptoms are stemming from a form of dementia. Most physicians conduct a Mini-Mental State Exam and the Mini-Cog test.

The Mini-Mental State Exam involves the following:

  • Patients are asked a series of questions
  • Questions are designed to test your range of mental skills
  • The questions are scored with a total possible of 30 points
  • Patients with a score of 20-24 are believed to have mild dementia
  • Patients with a score of 13-20 are believed to have moderate dementia
  • Patients with a score less than 12 are believed to have severe dementia

If you have been diagnosed with dementia, health professionals will perform this test routinely to see if the disease has progressed into a more severe stage.

A Mini-Cog test is another mental status evaluation that involves asking the patient to complete two tasks. First, you are asked to remember and repeat the names of three common objects a few minutes later. Second, patients are asked to draw the face of a clock with all 12 numbers in place.

Additional Dementia Testing Options

Although initial dementia testing results may provide you with an answer regarding your diagnosis, some physicians prefer to dig a little deeper to confirm the disease. More recently, specialists have begun to perform genetic testing to see if the patient has a certain gene that increases the risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer’s. 

APOE-e4 is among the most common risk gene for dementia; however, a person carrying this gene is not necessarily a candidate for the disease. Deterministic genes, such as ADAD, could also pose an increased risk, but again, not a definite risk.

Dementia Support You Need

If you or a loved one has received a dementia diagnosis, know that support is readily available. Beyond your family and friends eager to assist you with daily tasks and treatment options, you can also rely on online dementia support, including:

The Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center: This service of the National Institute on Aging offers publications on long-term care, research, treatment options, patient care and caregiver needs. 

Alzheimer’s Association Safe Return Program: This nationwide program allows families to register dementia patients in a confidential computer database, in the event he or she wanders away.

Alzheimer’s Association Support Groups: Connect with other patients, family members and caregivers who are facing the same struggles as you. The Alzheimer’s Association features both online support groups and information about local meet-ups.

Care Indeed is committed to providing you the support and in-home caregivers who understand your challenges and daily struggles at work and home. Learn more about how to get the support you need while living with Dementia today