Dementia is an umbrella term for mental deterioration that hinders a person’s ability to function on a day-to-day basis, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. There are many types of dementia and each has a different set of symptoms and treatments.
As a caregiver, what should you look for in a senior that could mean the onset of Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia?
Here is a short list of symptoms, of which at least two must be present in order for the condition to be considered dementia:
- Memory loss
- Barriers with communication and language
- Loss of ability to focus
- Impaired judgment and reasoning
- Disruption of visual perception
Once a caregiver is certain that something is amiss with their aging patient or loved one, what is the next step?
It is important for caregivers to remember to speak to the patient about the situation and then take them to their primary care physician and any recommended specialists for a definite diagnosis. Be aware that many doctors are not familiar with the detection and treatment of dementia. If you suspect you need to, pursue a second or third opinion. Make sure you research doctors and hospitals known for successful treatment of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
What should a caregiver or elderly person expect when visiting a doctor for possible diagnosis of dementia?
The following is a short list of tests and procedures a doctor may perform to assess each individual’s situation, and the descriptions of each:
- Neurological assessment
This assessment focuses on how the brain helps the body move; it tests movement, senses, balance and other neurological functions. Sometimes this part of the evaluation detects other medical conditions that may be responsible for the dementia symptoms, such as a different neurological disease.
- Cognitive and neuropsychological tests
These tests will help a doctor assess how the brain functions, and they measure memory, orientation, reasoning and judgment, language skills and attention. These help the doctor determine if the patient has dementia, how far its progressed, and which part of the brain is affected.
- Brain scans
Sometimes CT or MRI scans will be performed in order to ascertain whether the patient had a stroke or there is bleeding in the brain. Both of these incidents can induce memory loss and other symptoms similar to those of dementia.
- Lab tests
A simple blood test can determine if symptoms are due vitamin deficiencies or thyroid problems. If the body is physically okay, there is a greater chance that the problem could be dementia.
- Psychological Evaluation
Depending on the doctor and the way the other tests go, sometimes a psychological evaluation will be ordered. This way, a psychologist or psychiatrist can determine whether depression or other psychological disorders are causing the symptoms.
Diagnosing dementia can be challenging no matter how renowned a doctor is, so these tests are necessary to rule out other possible causes for certain neurological symptoms. If you are a caregiver and you are starting to suspect that your patient or loved one is experiencing symptoms of dementia, do not hesitate to speak with them about it and schedule an appointment with their doctor right away. The earlier dementia is detected, the easier it will be to curtail its progression, which accelerates very quickly, set up the appropriate care, and assure the person that they are properly being treated.