In the previous section, we talked extensively about the early signs and symptoms of dementia. We discussed these so that you can recognize the early warning signs in your loved ones so that they can get a dementia test and be diagnosed accordingly. However, we did not discuss how the diagnosis process happens. We touched on how dementia is treatable and that you should go to a doctor or medical professional immediately for treatment.
However, you may be feeling nervous about doing so and want to know precisely how dementia is diagnosed. Are there any tests for dementia diagnosis? Is the process complex or potentially harmful to patients? Thankfully, this is not the case, but just for clarification, we will dive into how medical professionals conduct the diagnosis of dementia through various testing and detection methods.
Without any further delay, let’s dive into it.
Factors to consider before diagnosing dementia:
Before we can understand the diagnosis process, it is essential to understand all the factors that can affect dementia testing. We have discussed before how dementia is a disease that can be caused by different conditions that affect the brain. However, you must understand that these conditions can exist simultaneously as well. Such a condition is known as mixed dementia, and as you can see, it can make diagnosing particular types of dementia difficult. This is the case, especially if they share many common symptoms.
Additionally, other medical conditions can cause symptoms similar to those caused by dementia. These can include mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, and stress that resemble dementia. Conducting a psychiatric test can be a great way to ensure that it isn’t this type of condition causing symptoms similar to that of dementia. Some other conditions identified by researchers are:
- Huntington’s disease
- HIV-associated dementia, which is when the HIV virus spreads to the brain
- Traumatic brain injury
Even certain medicine’s side effects can resemble those of the symptoms of dementia. Overlap of all these conditions, side effects, and multiple amnesia situations can make it challenging to diagnose and test determine dementia. That being said, it is certainly not impossible to test for dementia if done so correctly. We will look at some of the various methods and procedures involved when testing and diagnosing dementia.
How to test for dementia?
Taking the history of the patient
In essence, you can think of taking history as a pre-dementia test, as it involves taking a detailed history to see how likely the chances of dementia occurring are there. A general physician usually does this. Additionally, having someone who knows you well, like a family member or spouse, can make this process a whole lot easier and more accurate. Some of the things you will likely be asked about include:
- History of symptoms and how they have affected you
- History of existing conditions like heart disease or diabetes, and if they have been adequately managed
- Review any medicines you have taken or are taking
- Family history to check if there is a dementia history or conditions that can cause dementia
A physical exam is necessary when trying to diagnose most conditions, and so it is needed for dementia tests too. During a physical exam, the general physician will usually:
- Ask about nutrition and diet, which includes the consumption of alcohol
- Review current medication
- Check pulse, temperature, and blood pressure
- Listen to the lungs and heart
- Assess overall health
The neurological test can be thought of as an early dementia test, to check if there are any signal brain disorders. The physician conducting the test may look for signs of brain tumors, fluid buildup, stroke, or any other condition that can affect thinking and remembering. To do this, the physician may:
- Test reflexes
- Check the patient’s coordination
- Check the patient’s strength and muscle tone
- Test eye movement
- Check for any irregular speech patterns
- Test the patient’s sensation and ability to feel touch.
Mental cognitive test
You can think of this test as a type of diagnostic test for dementia. The purpose of this test is to evaluate the patient’s memory, thinking ability, and problem-solving ability. Additionally, it can also check their short and long-term memory. These tests can vary in complexity, from simple ones conducted by a General Physician (GP) to highly sophisticated ones performed by a neuroscientist. This test can help understand whether the patient is aware that they have symptoms and can follow simple words and do simple calculations.
Brain scans are often used when it comes to dementia diagnosis. On their own, however, they won’t provide an overview and need to be looked at alongside other dementia tests. The purpose of these scans is to check for tumors, strokes, and other brain conditions that can cause dementia. Here are three of the primary brain scans that doctors can conduct for dementia diagnosis:
MRI Scan: This scan uses magnetic fields and radio waves to produce detailed images of the brain’s structure, tissues, and nerves. It can provide detailed information about any blood vessel damage known to occur with vascular dementia. Additionally, it can show any shrinkage occurring in certain brain parts.
CT Scan: This scan uses X-rays to produce images of the brain. The scan can check for signs of stroke or tumors, but cannot provide detailed information about the structure.
PET Scan: This scan uses radiation to produce images that show brain activity and functions. It can be used to pick up any abnormalities in the brain’s blood flow.
It is vital to note here that even if there are no apparent changes in the brain from these scans, it doesn’t discount the possibility of the patient having dementia.
The purpose of conducting a blood test is to discount the possibility of another blood-related condition causing symptoms of dementia. Additionally, these tests can check the levels of beta-amyloid in the blood. This is because this protein tends to accumulate abnormally in patients who have Alzheimer’s disease. As of now, diagnostic tests like these specifically for dementia are not readily available. Research is still being conducted to develop such diagnostic tests for dementia.
Genetic tests can be conducted to check if the cause of dementia isn’t genetic. It has been known that sometimes dementia runs in the family, so it can carry on to patients through genetics. However, you must consult with a genetic counselor before and after the test, alongside a doctor and other family members. In some cases, these tests can even help researchers if families agree to participate.
To sum up
If you have suspicions that your loved one has dementia after having shown the symptoms, then you are likely going to be wondering what’s next. Sure, going to the doctor is logical, but you may be anxious about what may follow after. We have discussed the various kinds of test and detection methods to put your mind at ease. You can use them to diagnose dementia or conditions that show similar symptoms. As you can see, these tests are safe, so you don’t have to worry about your loved one’s safety. We hope this has been informational to you and hope it answers any doubts you may have had.