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Is There a Test for Dementia?

Determining If Your Loved One Has the Early Signs of Dementia

By Angela ShiflettPublished 6 years ago 4 min read
There is no single test for dementia; however, there are many types of assessments that may aid in confirming the early signs of dementia.

To date, there is no definitive test for dementia; however, if you have a loved one that is showing early signs of dementia, there are a variety of questionnaires, assessments, laboratory tests, radiological examinations, and cognitive tests that may help a medical professional establish a dementia diagnosis.

Learn How People Are Diagnosed With Dementia

This diagnosis is dependent upon the information derived from the questionnaires, assessments, laboratory results, radiological findings, and cognitive tests provided to the patient. If you are reading this, chances are you know someone who is exhibiting the early signs of dementia. Continue on to learn about the various dementia tests that are currently being utilized by today’s medical professionals.

What is Dementia?

Before talking about a test for dementia, it is first important to have a solid and thorough understanding of the condition. The term “dementia” is used in a general way among those in the medical community to describe a mental decline that is so severe that it actually interferes with the patient’s day-to-day life. Many believe that dementia is a disease; however, it is not. It is just a general word that provides a description to a variety of symptoms that are directly related to the memory, thinking skills, and similar processes of the mind.

What types of questions will a doctor ask a loved one that's showing early signs of dementia?

The first test for dementia is a basic questionnaire about the medical history of your loved one to determine if they are at risk for the condition. Additionally, it aids in gathering information about any changes that have occurred in the way that your loved one thinks and remembers information. The questions typically cover past medical issues, procedures, surgeries, and medications taken. Questions may also be asked about the medical conditions present in the patient’s family history.

Why is a physical assessment necessary for a person showing early signs of dementia?

The next test for dementia is a physical assessment. What one perceives as the early signs of dementia may, in fact, be caused by a physical issue. Examples of these issues may include infections in the body, side effects from medications, vitamin and/or mineral deficiencies, metabolic disorders, circulatory problems, and issues that relate directly to the bones, muscles, and/or nerves of the body. A doctor will conduct a thorough physical evaluation, which is usually followed by laboratory tests.

What types of laboratory tests are done to determine if a person is showing the early signs of dementia?

In most instances, laboratory tests coincide with the physical assessment for those that seem to be exhibiting the early signs of dementia. These tests will help doctors determine if there are nutritional deficiencies, blood disorders, infections, imbalances, organ problems, and similar problems occurring within the body. Examples of some of the things that laboratory tests evaluate for include: anemia, electrolyte imbalances, liver function, and thyroid function.

What radiological tests help diagnose dementia?

The radiological tests issued for those showing early signs of dementia typically include computed tomography (CAT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), position emission tomography (PET), and single-photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT) tests. The radiological tests for dementia are utilized to determine if there have been changes in the brain. These tests for dementia are also used to rule out other medical issues such as tumors, fluid surrounding the brain, and even signs of a recent stroke. Below, you will find each of the most commonly used radiological tests for dementia with a brief description of each:

  • CAT Scan – This test takes X-ray images in a multitude of angles so that a 3D image may be created of the brain. These scans are able to rule out serious complications that occur in the head, such as bleeding and tumors. Additionally, they are able to pick up on certain characteristics that may reflect the onset of dementia.
  • MRI Scan – This radiological test for dementia creates a precise 3D image of the patient’s brain. It has the ability to pick up on tissue loss and similar characteristics of dementia.
  • PET Scan – This test for dementia provides a comprehensive overview of activity that is occurring throughout the brain and creates images of that activity.
  • SPECT Scan – This radiological test is an ideal choice for doctors that want to see and measure the blood flow that is occurring in the various regions of the brain.

What cognitive tests are used to determine if someone is suffering from dementia?

While there are many cognitive tests utilized to help gauge if a person has dementia, the three most commonly used by medical professionals are the Mini-Mental Status Exam (MMSE), Neuropsychological Test, and the Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale – Cognitive (ADAS-Cog). The following provides a brief overview of each of these dementia cognition tests:

  1. MMSE – This is a short test that assesses numerous skills. It consists of 11 questions that quickly measure five different areas concerning cognitive functioning. These are the patient’s orientation, their registration, the attention span, calculation skills, the ability to recall information, and language skills. The overall score may reach 30; however, a score of 23 or less is highly indicative of the fact that the patient is suffering from some degree of cognitive impairment.
  2. Neuropsychological Test for Dementia – This is a comprehensive test that may take as long as a few hours to complete. It is administered by a neuropsychology professional. The patient is commonly asked to recall information provided, draw figures shown to them, perform in activities requiring reasoning skills, and other sensitive tests.
  3. ADAS-Cog – This is a two-part test that measures both cognitive functions and the mood/behavior of the individual believed to be suffering from the early signs of dementia. It is a highly comprehensive test for dementia that has eleven parts. In some instances, a medical professional may administer the test; however, it is not uncommon for the patient to be referred out to a psychiatrist for testing.

What should I do if my loved one is diagnosed with dementia?

If all of the tests lead a medical professional to diagnose your loved one with dementia, the first step is to be honest and tell your loved one. It is common for you to feel afraid and hesitant—not only to tell your loved one, but to experience that which is to come. You should then make an appointment with a neurologist to create a care plan. Additionally, there are many legal components, safety factors, and plans concerning long-term care that should be considered and dealt with after a dementia diagnosis. If you need assistance, there is a helpline offered by the Alzheimer’s Association that is open 24/7. You can call this line toll-free by dialing 1-800-272-3900.


About the Creator

Angela Shiflett

Angela has worked as a professional content creator for nearly 20 years. Her topics are typically created as a result of her life experiences and passions. She strives to deliver content that is helpful, intriguing, and entertaining.

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