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How dementia is diagnosed Caregivers Corner

Capital - 3/15/2020

Dear Mary,

Can you tell me how a diagnosis of dementia is determined?

Dear Reader,

There is no single test that can lead to a dementia diagnosis and, since many of the different dementias can have overlapping symptoms, it can be difficult to get an accurate diagnosis. But a proper diagnosis is important in order that the right treatment be prescribed and to help caregivers understand what to expect during the course of dementia.

The physician should first complete a thorough medical history to detail past and current medical issues, a family medical history, listing of medications, and any problems with memory or decision making that are causing concern. If the patient is unable to provide this information, the doctor will need to speak with a family member who can.

A thorough physical examination will be completed to rule out other conditions. Laboratory tests should be ordered to determine whether a person has an underlying treatable condition such as abnormal thyroid function, normal pressure hydrocephalus, a vitamin deficiency, or another medical condition that may relate to cognitive difficulties. Early detection of symptoms is important, as some causes can be treated.

Neurological testing assesses balance, sensory response, reflexes, and other cognitive functions and helps identify conditions that may affect the diagnosis or are treatable with drugs.

Cognitive testing is used to assess thinking abilities to include memory, language, problem-solving, and the ability to maintain attention; this testing helps identify specific problem areas which in turn may help identify which of the many different types of dementia an individual has.

Brain imaging or scans can rule out brain tumors and blood clots on the brain. Scans also identify changes in the brain's structure and function. Some scans can detect patterns of tissue loss in the brain; others can measure brain activity. Both help determine the type of dementia.

If there is concern regarding the individual's emotional health, a psychiatric evaluation will help determine if depression or another mental health condition is causing or contributing to a person's symptoms.

The primary care physician is often the first step for people who are experiencing changes in thinking, movement, or behavior. However, neurologists-doctors who specialize in disorders of the brain and nervous system-generally have the expertise needed to diagnose dementia. Geriatric psychiatrists, neuropsychologists, and geriatricians may also be skilled in diagnosing the condition.

Caregivers Conference

Registration has begun for Anne Arundel County's 28th Annual Caregivers Conference. This year's event will be held on Saturday, April 18th, at The Hotel at Arundel Preserve.

Anne Contee will be this year's keynote speaker, opening the day with tips on creating a space of zero-negativity. Local and national speakers throughout the day will cover topics such as creating a dream relationship, navigating the health care system, living with a serious illness, maintaining independence, starting the conversation, financial exploitation of older adults, caregiver guilt, the role of the nurse practitioner and an update on neurocognitive disorders. Lon Kieffer, aka DOC (Defender of Caregivers) will be close the day out showing how personality guides your caregiver journey.

Family and professional caregivers will have a chance to network with fellow caregivers; Social Work CEUs are available. Vendors from local agencies and businesses will be on hand to share resources and information to assist you with your caregiving needs.

For more information or to register, go online to or call 410-222-4375/4339.

Caption: Getty


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