Diagnosing Dementia

Early Signs of Dementia

Dementia develops gradually, the early signs may be very subtle and vague, and not immediately obvious. Early symptoms also depend on the type of dementia and vary a great deal from person to person. The checklist of common symptoms/warning signs include:

  • Memory loss that affects day-to-day function
  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks
  • Disorientation to time and place
  • Problems with language
  • Problems with abstract thinking
  • Poor or decreased judgement
  • Problems with spatial skills
  • Problems misplacing things
  • Changes in mood, personality or behaviour
  • A loss of initiative

Conditions That Have Similar Symptoms to Dementia

Strokes, depression, alcoholism, infections, hormone disorders, nutritional deficiencies, delirium and brain tumors can all cause dementia-like symptoms. Many of these conditions can be treated.

Parts of Assessment

There is no definitive diagnosis for dementia; diagnosis is made by a process of elimination of alternatives. The process involves

  • Medical history – past and current medical problems, family medical history, any medications being taken, and the problems with memory, thinking or behaviour that are causing concern
  • Physical examination – tests of the senses and movement function, as well as heart and lung function, to help rule out other conditions
  • Laboratory tests – a variety of blood and urine tests to identify any possible illness which could be responsible for the symptoms
  • Neuropsychological or cognitive testing – a variety of tests are used to assess thinking abilities including memory, language, attention and problem solving.
  • Brain imaging – there are certain scans that look at the structure of the brain and are used to rule out brain tumours or blood clots in the brain as the reason for symptoms, and to detect patterns of brain tissue loss that can differentiate between different types of dementia.
  • Psychiatric assessment – to identify treatable disorders such as depression, and to manage any psychiatric symptoms such as anxiety or delusions which may occur alongside dementia.
Current Category: Diagnosing Dementia
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