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How To Diagnose Early Dementia

Signs Of Dementia Where To Find Help

How early dementia diagnosis gave us relief

When your loved one is displaying troubling symptoms, a trip to a primary care physician is often the first step. But to get a definitive diagnosis, youll need to see a specialist such as a neurologist, geriatrician or geriatric psychiatrist.

If you cant find one, the National Institute on Aging recommends contacting the neurology department of a nearby medical school. Some hospitals also have clinics that focus on dementia.

Ailments can mimic dementia

Vitamin deficiencies

Specialists will want to know about the patients personal and family medical history. A close relative or relatives having had Alzheimers is a major risk factor.

Recent research suggests that a prevalence among even members of your extended family can increase your dementia risk. Doctors also will conduct physical and neurological exams to rule out other treatable causes for dementia symptoms.

Some of the methods that doctors use to diagnose dementia:

Cognitive and neuropsychological tests assess language and math skills, memory, problem-solving and other types of mental functioning.

Lab tests of blood and other fluids, including checking levels of various chemicals, hormones and vitamins, can help rule out nondementia causes for the symptoms.

Brain scans such as CT, MRI or PET imaging can spot changes in brain structure and function. These tests also can identify strokes, tumors and other problems that can cause dementia.

More on Dementia

Stage : Moderate Dementia

Patients in stage 5 need some assistance in order to carry out their daily lives. The main sign for stage 5 dementia is the inability to remember major details such as the name of a close family member or a home address. Patients may become disoriented about the time and place, have trouble making decisions, and forget basic information about themselves, such as a telephone number or address.

While moderate dementia can interfere with basic functioning, patients at this stage do not need assistance with basic functions such as using the bathroom or eating. Patients also still have the ability to remember their own names and generally the names of spouses and children.

How Is Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosed

Doctors use several methods and tools to help determine if a person with thinking or memory problems has Alzheimers disease. To diagnose Alzheimers, doctors may:

  • Ask the person experiencing symptoms, as well as a family member or friend, questions about overall health, use of prescription and over-the-counter medicines, diet, past medical problems, ability to carry out daily activities, and changes in behavior and personality.
  • Administer a psychiatric evaluation to determine if depression or another mental health condition is causing or contributing to a person’s symptoms.
  • Conduct tests of memory, problem solving, attention, counting, and language.
  • Order blood, urine, and other standard medical tests that can help identify other possible causes of the problem.
  • Perform brain scans, such as computed tomography , magnetic resonance imaging , or positron emission tomography , to support an Alzheimers diagnosis or rule out other possible causes for symptoms.

Doctors may want to repeat these tests to help best determine how the persons memory and other cognitive functions are changing over time. The tests can also help diagnose other causes of memory problems, such as stroke, tumor, Parkinsons disease, sleep disturbances, side effects of medication, an infection, or another type of dementia. Some of these conditions may be treatable and possibly reversible.

People with memory problems should return to the doctor every six to 12 months.

Read Also: Can You Have Parkinsons And Alzheimers

If The Diagnosis Is Dementia

Dementia is one of the health conditions that people are most afraid of.

A study by the Alzheimer’s Society has shown that more than half of people wait for up to a year before getting help for dementia symptoms, because they feel afraid. But an accurate and early diagnosis can have many benefits.

After you’ve had the necessary tests , your doctor should ask if you want to know your diagnosis.

They should explain what having dementia might mean for you and give you time to talk about the condition and ask questions.

Unless you decide otherwise, your doctor, or a member of their team, should talk to you and your family or carer about:

  • the type of dementia you have or, if it’s not clear, they should talk to you about being assessed again in the future
  • the symptoms and how the condition might develop
  • the treatments you might be offered
  • the name of a health or social care professional who will co-ordinate the different types of support you need
  • care and support services in your area, including support groups and voluntary organisations for people with dementia, their families and carers
  • advocacy services
  • how dementia will affect your driving or employment, if this applies to you
  • where you can get financial and legal advice

You should also be given written information about dementia.

Why Diagnosis Is Important

What is Dementia?

Some people feel like they’d rather not know if they have dementia if there’s no cure available at this time. However, there are several benefits of an early diagnosis.

Even though receiving a dementia diagnosis is difficult, it can also help explain why you’ve been having a harder time with your memory or decisions. Some people report feeling relief in knowing the cause of these symptoms.

There’s also a benefit to knowing about your dementia so you can take the opportunity to make decisions for your future and communicate them to those around you.

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Early Diagnosis And Drug Treatment

Talking about being diagnosed with dementia at the age of 50, Norman McNamara says on his YouTube video:

Being diagnosed with something like this absolutely devastates you, but for me diagnosis and this is going to sound really strange was probably the best news I had at the time. Because… I thought I was losing my mind. I thought there was a conspiracy against me. I was right and everybody else was wrong. An early diagnosis of dementia is so, so important. Once diagnosed, I knew what I was up against. As they say: know your enemy. If I hadnt been diagnosed early and I hadnt been seen by consultants on a regular basis, I wouldnt be as well as I am today. I dont know what my future holds, but at least Im prepared for it.

You may also be interested to read Supporting carers at the time of diagnosis in the section on Carers of people with dementia.

How To Detect The Early Signs Of Dementia

Is your loved one doing or saying things out of character? Are they forgetting things more frequently than before? Are they lacking the focus they once had? If so, you might be wondering if these symptoms could mean your loved one has dementia.

According to the Alzheimers Association, Dementia is a general term for a decline in mental ability severe enough to interfere with daily life. They also explain that Dementia is not a specific disease. Its an overall term that describes a group of symptoms associated with a decline in memory or other thinking skills severe enough to reduce a persons ability to perform everyday activities. Alzheimers disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of cases. Vascular dementia, which occurs after a stroke, is the second most common dementia type. But there are many other conditions that can cause symptoms of dementia, including some that are reversible, such as thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies.

In order to be diagnosed with dementia, at least two of the following symptoms have to be present and significant enough that they interfere with everyday living. If you notice your loved one is experiencing more than one of these symptoms, and/or youre questioning whether or not your loved one needs help, dont hesitate to consult with a physician. Below are the common signs of dementia:

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How Is Dementia Diagnosed

To diagnose dementia, doctors first assess whether a person has an underlying, potentially treatable, condition that may relate to cognitive difficulties. A physical exam to measure blood pressure and other vital signs, as well as laboratory tests of blood and other fluids to check levels of various chemicals, hormones, and vitamins, can help uncover or rule out possible causes of symptoms.

A review of a persons medical and family history can provide important clues about risk for dementia. Typical questions might include asking about whether dementia runs in the family, how and when symptoms began, changes in behavior and personality, and if the person is taking certain medications that might cause or worsen symptoms.

The following procedures also may be used to diagnose dementia:

  • Psychiatric evaluation. This evaluation will help determine if depression or another mental health condition is causing or contributing to a person’s symptoms.
  • Genetic tests. Some dementias are caused by a persons genes. In these cases, a genetic test can help people know if they are at risk for dementia. It is important to talk with a genetic counselor before and after getting tested, along with family members and the doctor.
  • Early detection of symptoms is important, as some causes can be treated. However, in many cases, the cause of dementia is unknown and cannot be treated. Still, obtaining an early diagnosis can help with managing the condition and planning ahead.

    What Is Mixed Dementia

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    It is common for people with dementia to have more than one form of dementia. For example, many people with dementia have both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.

    Researchers who have conducted autopsy studies have looked at the brains of people who had dementia, and have suggested that most people age 80 and older probably have mixed dementia caused by a combination of brain changes related to Alzheimer’s disease,vascular disease-related processes, or another condition that involves the loss of nerve cell function or structure and nerve cell death .

    Scientists are investigating how the underlying disease processes in mixed dementia start and influence each other. Further knowledge gains in this area will help researchers better understand these conditions and develop more personalized prevention and treatment strategies.

    Other conditions that cause dementia-like symptoms can be halted or even reversed with treatment. For example, normal pressure hydrocephalus, an abnormal buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain, often resolves with treatment.

    In addition, medical conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, and delirium can cause serious memory problems that resemble dementia, as can side effects of certain medicines.

    Researchers have also identified many other conditions that can cause dementia or dementia-like symptoms. These conditions include:

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    Can Dementia Suddenly Get Worse

    The progression of dementia depends on the underlying disease. Some diseases have a rapid progression. Others progress more slowly. Any sudden change with either slow or rapid progression should be evaluated for another cause. In most cases, changes with dementia may seem like they came out of the blue when they actually may have been slowly developing in the background. The best way to prepare for changes and manage expectations is through information. Your doctor and medical team will be a valuable resource. There are a variety of educational resources that are also available through the Alzheimer’s Association.

    Future Directions In Diagnosis Research

    Considerable research effort is being put into the development of better tools for accurate and early diagnosis. Research continues to provide new insights that in the future may promote early detection and improved diagnosis of dementia, including:

    • Better dementia assessment tests that are suitable for people from diverse educational, social, linguistic and cultural backgrounds.
    • New computerised cognitive assessment tests which can improve the delivery of the test and simplify responses.
    • Improved screening tools to allow dementia to be more effectively identified and diagnosed by GPs.
    • The development of blood and spinal fluid tests to measure Alzheimers related protein levels and determine the risk of Alzheimers disease.
    • The use of sophisticated brain imaging techniques and newly developed dyes to directly view abnormal Alzheimers protein deposits in the brain, yielding specific tests for Alzheimers disease.

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    Test Results Supporting Diagnosis

    Physical and neurological examinations and various tests may help distinguish LBD from other illnesses. Specific tests that may support an LBD diagnosis include:

    • A positron emission tomography scan or a single-photon emission computerized tomography scan showing reduced dopamine transporter uptake in the basal ganglia
    • Abnormal 123iodine-MIBG myocardial scintigraphy showing reduced communication of cardiac nerves
    • Sleep study confirming REM sleep behavior disorder without loss of muscle tone

    Read more about diagnosing dementia, including tests and who can make a diagnosis.

    There are no tests that can definitively diagnose LBD. Currently, only a brain autopsy after death can confirm a suspected diagnosis. However, researchers are studying ways to diagnose LBD earlier and more accurately during life. The use of certain imaging, blood, cerebrospinal fluid, and genetics tests is being studied.

    Current Practice In Diagnosing Dementia

    Dementia: Symptoms, Stages, Types, &  Treatment

    The remainder of this information will provide an overview of the diagnosis process and a guide to what happens after diagnosis.

    It is important to remember that there is no definitive test for diagnosing Alzheimers disease or any of the other common causes of dementia. Findings from a variety of sources and tests must be pooled before a diagnosis can be made, and the process can be complex and time consuming. Even then, uncertainty may still remain, and the diagnosis is often conveyed as possible or probable. Despite this uncertainty, a diagnosis is accurate around 90% of the time.

    People with significant memory loss without other symptoms of dementia, such as behaviour or personality changes, may be classified as having a Mild Cognitive Impairment . MCI is a relatively new concept and more research is needed to understand the relation between MCI and later development of dementia. However, MCI does not necessarily lead to dementia and regular monitoring of memory and thinking skills is recommended in individuals with this diagnosis.

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    Early Signs Of Dementia Checklist

    Early onset dementia symptoms usually affect people in their 50s and early 60s. But is it really a dementia sign or is it just a something we do as we get older?

    Signs of Dementia / Alzheimers Typical age-related changes
    Making a bad decision once in a while
    Inability to manage a budget Missing a monthly payment
    Losing track of the date or the season Forgetting what day it is and remembering later
    Difficulty having a conversation Sometimes forgetting which word to use
    Misplacing things and being unable to retrace steps to find them Losing things from time to time

    As dementia is a progressive neurological disorder, there are many dementia symptoms stages. The changes are gradual, and this may give your parent time to receive an early diagnosis and to slow down or prevent the progression.

    Fortunately, early signs of dementia can be spotted before the symptoms make a big impact on day-to-day living and overall quality of life. For more information on the various stages of dementia, download our free guide, Taking the Fear Out of Dementia.

    Sometimes dementia diagnosis can be difficult as there is no one simple test to carry out and early symptoms can be similar to the age-related changes listed above. Here are 10 early signs of Dementia to look out for.

    What Are The Different Types Of Dementia

    Various disorders and factors contribute to the development of dementia. Neurodegenerative disorders result in a progressive and irreversible loss of neurons and brain functioning. Currently, there are no cures for these diseases.

    The five most common forms of dementia are:

    • Alzheimers disease, the most common dementia diagnosis among older adults. It is caused by changes in the brain, including abnormal buildups of proteins, known as amyloid plaques and tau tangles.
    • Frontotemporal dementia, a rare form of dementia that tends to occur in people younger than 60. It is associated with abnormal amounts or forms of the proteins tau and TDP-43.
    • Lewy body dementia, a form of dementia caused by abnormal deposits of the protein alpha-synuclein, called Lewy bodies.
    • Vascular dementia, a form of dementia caused by conditions that damage blood vessels in the brain or interrupt the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain.
    • Mixed dementia, a combination of two or more types of dementia.

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    Information For Your Doctor

    Itâs a good idea to put together the following for your first appointment:

    • A list of symptoms — include everything youâre feeling, even if you donât think it could be related to dementia
    • Any sources of major stress or recent life changes
    • A list of all medications you take, including vitamins and supplements, and the dosage
    • A list of any questions you have

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    After Diagnosis A Dementia Care Plan

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    Once a dementia diagnosis has been given you will have many questions about the short term and long term future. Its important to ask the Doctor about local services that can help support the family as part of a dementia care plan.This care plan should also look at other health conditions that need monitoring and who within the social care team will coordinate the different types of support that the person may need. It should then be reviewed at least once a year. Plus, your parents may be entitled to financial benefits and other types of support.

    We know how it feels when a loved one receives a diagnosis of dementia. Try not to panic. There is lots of information and support out there to help you understand dementia and how to help those who have it. Our dementia section includes a wide range of resources and information from understanding dementia, the treatments to help, to helping someone with dementia to eat more.

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