Dementia Diagnosis: How Do Doctors Diagnose?

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If you think you or a loved one may have Dementia, it is a good idea to see a doctor to see if you are living with Dementia or may have another medical condition. Through various tests and evaluations, your doctor may give you a Dementia Diagnosis if you have the signs of dementia present.

By getting a Dementia Diagnoses, you and your family will be able to prepare for the future ahead and have the proper support needed to help manage your Dementia symptoms.

How to Know If you Have Dementia?

How to Know If you Have Dementia

Do you find yourself not remembering things that you used to know? This can be a friend’s name that you see at church or an old school teacher that you once had that you adored.

Perhaps you find it more challenging to balance the checkbook or learn a new game with your grandkids. These things can leave you feeling frustrated about the situation. You may be asking yourself the following questions:

  • Why can I not remember these things?
  • Is this a sign I am getting older?
  • Do I have Dementia?
  • Do I need to see a doctor?
  • Can other people notice that I can’t remember?
  • If I have Dementia, what do I do next?

If you are struggling with your memory, getting the answers to these questions may be frustrating. Seeing a doctor and getting the answers will help you be prepared for what is to come. It may be that your difficulties with your memory are normal signs of aging rather than signs of Dementia. Only a doctor can help you determine this.

What is the Difference Between Normal Aging and Dementia?

The first thing you can do is determine if the difficulty you are having with your memory is caused by normal signs of aging or from Dementia.

As we age, about 40% of us will experience memory loss after 65. This does not mean that all 40% have Dementia. This memory loss is relatively mild. It is usually fairly easy to still live your life without interruption or help from others.

It is estimated by the World Health Organization only five to eight percent of individuals over the age of 60 will have Dementia at some point in their life.

The reason for such a vast difference is that they are many different levels of memory loss because not all memory loss is associated with Dementia.

Different Types of Memory Loss

Different Types of Memory Loss

There are three different types of memory loss as you age.

  • Age-Associated Memory Impairment
  • Mild Cognitive Impairment
  • Dementia

#1. Age-Associated Memory Impairment

If you have difficulties with your memory, but can still do some of the following things listed below, you may have what is known as age-associated memory impairment.

  • You struggle with your memory, but it does not disrupt your daily life.
  • You can continue to complete tasks as you always have.
  • You can learn and remember new things.
  • You have no underlying medical conditions that are causing memory problems.

Age-associated memory impairment is a typical sign of aging. While you may struggle to remember things on occasion like where you placed your phone or a friend’s name for a minute, these are not signs of Dementia.

#2. Mild Cognitive Impairment

Mild Cognitive Impairment is a condition that falls between Age-Associated Memory Impairment and Dementia. You may experience memory loss, have trouble speaking or become disoriented at times. Still, these issues are not severe enough to interfere with your normal routine.

If you have mild cognitive impairment, you are at a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease or another type of Dementia.

#3. Dementia

If you are struggling with your memory loss and it affects your daily life, you may have Dementia. Some other signs may include:

  • Your memory loss is affecting everyday life.
  • Sticking to a routine is more difficult than before.
  • Struggle to learn new things.
  • Familiar tasks are more complicated than they used to be.
  • Loved ones are beginning to notice that your ability to do something is changing.

If you see these signs, you may be in the early stages of Dementia, but the only way to confirm this is to see your doctor.

Know the Warning Signs of Dementia

Knowing the warning signs of Dementia may help you recognize Dementia in the early stages to begin to get the help and form a support team that can help. Some of the warning signs include, but are not limited to:

  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks
  • Struggling with language and abstract thinking
  • Sudden changes in mood and behavior

Learn more of the most common warning signs of Dementia.

Know the Benefits of Early Diagnosis

Know the Benefits of Early Diagnosis

It is essential to understand the benefits of an Early diagnosis when living with Dementia. Understanding the benefits may help you see your doctor begin learning how to cope and live with this diagnosis. These benefits include:

  • Your doctor will diagnose you with an accurate Dementia Diagnosis based on symptoms and testing.
  • Become actively involved in future healthcare and personal decisions.
  • Get more effective treatments.
  • Focus on what is most important in your life.
  • Make choices for your future, including legal and financial matters.
  • Use and understand resources that are available to you.
  • It gives your family time to understand the challenges and the progression of such challenges.
  • You can raise awareness of Dementia while you still can.

How to Prepare for your appointment if you think you have Dementia?

Suppose you think you may be living with Dementia and see signs of Dementia. In that case, you will want to make an appointment with your healthcare provider.

While you are waiting to see your doctor, write down any symptoms you are experiencing and any questions you may want to ask your doctor.

You want to make sure that you are honest regarding your evaluation and questionnaire that you fill out. The more information you can provide to your healthcare provider, the better they will understand your symptoms and give you a proper diagnosis with the symptoms that are present.

Tips for Talking with your Doctor About Dementia

Tips for Talking with your Doctor About Dementia

Your doctor can help answer the questions that you have about Dementia. You may want to know some helpful tips and things to expect.

Before your appointment

  • Ask a family member or close friend to go to your appointment with you. They will help you remember the questions you want to ask and what the doctor tells you during the appointment. They can also share with the doctor things they have observed. Most of all, they can serve as emotional support for you if you need them during your appointment and after.
  • Choose the best time of day for you. You will want to make an appointment at a time when you feel well-rested and alert.
  • Write down any symptoms that you are experiencing that are giving you trouble.
  • Write down any questions that you have for your doctor.

What to Bring with you to your appointment

You will want to be sure to bring the following information to your appointment.

  • List of symptoms. Include when you or your loved ones first noticed them. Note if they have worsened over time or improved.
  • Any medications or supplements that you are currently taking. This includes vitamins and over-the-counter medications.
  • Personal and family medical history.
  • List any questions that you may have.

During Your Appointment

While at the doctor, you will want to keep these questions in mind.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
  • Answer all questions honestly and to the best of your ability. If there is something you don’t understand, ask for clarification.
  • Give examples of the symptoms you are seeing. Say that I lose my keys every day, and it takes me an hour to find them again. I finally remember putting them next to the back door where they go. Don’t say I am more forgetful.
  • Have your doctor explain all treatment options that may be available to you.
  • Have your doctor write down all medical terms that you do not understand.
  • Take notes to help remember what your doctor tells you.
  • Write down all medications prescribed and why they are being prescribed.
  • Write down all future appointments.

Understanding a Dementia Diagnosis

A Dementia diagnosis may take a long time to confirm. Healthcare providers want to ensure the diagnosis is accurate, so they may ask for additional tests and screenings.

This is because no specific test can give you a dementia diagnosis.

An official diagnosis will be provided, after your doctor has multiple test results, medical history, and the evidence they need to confirm that you are living with Dementia.

Are the Online Self-Assessments Accurate when Diagnosing Dementia?

The online self-assessments may help evaluate your current symptoms and cognitive abilities, they do not give you an official diagnosis, nor should you rely on these as an official diagnosis. Instead of taking an online assessment, we recommend scheduling an appointment with your doctor to express your current concerns and get an accurate diagnosis.

How is Dementia Diagnosed by Doctors?

How is Dementia Diagnosed by Doctors

Dementia is diagnosed after asking a series of questions by your health care provider about your medical history, conducting a physical exam, a mental exam, and usually through lab and imaging tests.

By conducting such tests and evaluations, your healthcare provider will determine if your mental impairments are caused by a different condition that can be treated. Even if your condition is not treatable, it is good to know the next steps ahead of you and the type of Dementia you have so that you may get the treatments to help with the symptoms you are suffering from.

#1. Medical History

Your healthcare provider will conduct a medical history as well as a physical exam. Your healthcare provider may ask you and your loved one that you brought to the appointment about your current symptoms as well as other things that are going on in your life that may have caused your memory impairment.

It is common for your healthcare provider to ask about symptoms related to your behavior and if you have had any changes in your behavior.

It is best to bring in all the medications you are taking, prescription, over-the-counter, and any supplements. This helps your healthcare provider determine if the conditions you are experiencing have to do with your medications, such as being over-medicated or bad drug interaction.

#2. Mental Status Exam

Your healthcare provider will conduct a mental status exam. During this exam, those living with Dementia may be asked a series of questions. Some questions may include: What is the date? Or what year it is? You may be asked to repeat words back to your healthcare provider or count backward from 100 to 7. They may even ask you to draw a clock and mark the hands for a specific time.

#3. Neurological Evaluation

Your healthcare provider will evaluate your memory, language, visual perceptions, attention, problem-solving, senses, reflexes, and balance.

#4. Lab Tests

Many medical conditions can cause memory impairment. While your doctor is performing your physical examination that will look for signs of other medical problems that you may be suffering from. They may run different lab tests to rule out any of these conditions. Tests that they may run include the following:

  • Thyroid Test
  • B12 Test to look for Vitamin Deficiency
  • Complete blood count to rule out infections
  • ALT or AST Tests to test the function of your liver
  • Chemistry Screen. This will test your kidney function and the electrolyte levels in your blood.
  • Glucose Test to Check sugar levels in the blood
  • HIV test
  • Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate Blood test, to check for inflammation in the body
  • Toxicology Test.
  • Antinuclear Antibodies to diagnose any autoimmune disease.
  • Lead Test.
  • Spinal Tap

#5. Imaging Tests

Your healthcare provider may order brain image testing such as a CT scan or an MRI to help rule out any other conditions causing the symptoms. These tests can help rule out brain tumors or other conditions causing mental impairments. They can also show signs of strokes from Vascular Dementia.

Your doctor can also run a Single Photon Emission CT and a PET scan to help identify different types of Dementia, including vascular Dementia and frontotemporal Dementia.

#7. After Death

After those living with dementia pass away, doctors can perform an autopsy to determine what caused the Dementia. This can help bring peace of mind to loved ones who may be concerned about genetic causes and help advance the research of Dementia.

Treatment of Dementia

If you are officially diagnosed with dementia, you will want to know the available treatment options. Most types of Dementia are not curable, but there are different ways to manage your symptoms.

#1. Medications

Your healthcare provider may prescribe medication to help manage symptoms. These medications may include:

  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors
  • Memantine
  • Other Medications to help with depression, sleep, hallucinations, and agitation

#2. Therapies

Some dementia symptoms and behaviors may be treated with the right therapies. Therapy is a great non-drug approach for treatment.

Occupational Therapy:- An occupational therapist can show you how to make your home safer. They can also help you cope with behaviors caused by Dementia. If you are a caregiver of a loved one living with Dementia and you live in Texas, contact me, your Dementia Therapist!

#3. Clinical Trials

Clinical trials may be available to test new treatments, interventions or help manage current symptoms. Talk with your healthcare provider if you are a good candidate for any upcoming clinical trials.

#4. Lifestyle Changes / Modifications

Making certain lifestyle changes and modifications may make managing your current and future dementia symptoms easier.

  • Reduce Clutter:- Reducing the clutter may make it easier for those living with Dementia to be able to focus and function.
  • Monitor Systems:- If your loved one with Dementia loves to wander, you will want to install monitoring systems that can alert you when your loved one begins to wander.
  • Hide Objects:- You may need to hide objects that can threaten the safety of your loved one. This may include knives, guns, car keys, etc.
  • Communication:- When you are talking with your loved one, be sure that you speak slowly so that they can understand. Also, use short, simple sentences. Maintaining eye contact can also help. Give your loved one adequate time to respond without getting annoyed or rushing them for an answer.
  • Exercise:- The most significant benefit of exercise with those living with Dementia is to maintain strength, help with balance and cardiovascular health. For those who are living with Dementia, exercise can help with restlessness. Some research shows that being physically active can help slow the progression of impaired thinking in Alzheimer’s Disease.
  • Participate in Activities:- Find and plan activities that those living with Dementia can also enjoy. Some ideas include dancing, gardening, cooking, singing, and crafts. These activities can help you bond in a new way.
  • Establish Routines:- Those living with Dementia do better with routines, especially at night. Establish a nighttime routine that is calming. Be sure to leave night lights on to help your loved one to help prevent disorientation at night.
  • Keep a Calendar Posted:- Posting a calendar with events and doctor’s appointments can help your loved one living with Dementia remember upcoming activities and events. 
  • Create a Plan:- You will want to develop a plan with your loved ones while still able. Understand the goals that they have. Meet with a financial advisor and a lawyer to get all the proper documents in place so that you can help them make financial and medical decisions when they are no longer able to make these decisions on their own.

Coping and Support for Dementia

Coping and Support for Dementia

When you receive a dementia diagnosis, it can and will change your life. Finding the right support will be vital in coping with Dementia.

#1. Support and Coping for Those Living With Dementia

If you are living with Dementia, you may want to try these techniques and tips to help cope with Dementia.

  • Learn about Dementia.
  • Write down your feelings in a notebook or journal.
  • Join a support group in person or online.
  • Get counseling, consider couples counseling with your partner to learn how to navigate this change in your relationship.
  • Stay active and volunteer.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Maintain a healthy diet.
  • Spend time with family and friends.
  • Find new hobbies that you enjoy.
  • Designate someone you love and trust to make your financial and medical decisions for you.

#2. Helping your Loved One Cope with Dementia

The best thing you can do to help your loved one living with Dementia is to listen and reassure them that you will always be there for them. Be as supportive as possible to them. Help them know that they can still enjoy life to its fullest.

#3. Support for Caregivers

Providing care for a loved one living with Dementia can be draining both physically and emotionally. You may feel anger, guilt, frustration, discouragements, hopelessness, worry, grief, and loneliness. These are all common and normal feelings to feel. If you are a caregiver, these tips can help you support your loved one.

  • Learn as much as you can about the type of Dementia that your loved one is diagnosed with.
  • Learn about support services that can help you care for your loved one. This includes programs such as respite, which can come in during certain times of the week to help give you a break from caring for your loved one.
  • Ask for help.
  • Take care of yourself. This includes physically, spiritually, and mentally.
  • Ask questions.
  • Join a support group of other caretakers.

Key Points of Receiving a Dementia Diagnosis:-

  • Know the difference between normal aging and Dementia.
  • Understand and know the warning signs of Dementia.
  • Know the Benefits of an Early Diagnosis.
  • Be prepared for your appointment with your doctor.
  • Your doctor will diagnose you with Dementia after a series of exams and tests. These may include a medical history, a physical exam, a mental exam, and usually through lab and imaging tests.
  • While there is no current cure for Dementia, treatments may be available and therapies to help manage symptoms.
  • Evaluate if there are any lifestyle changes or modifications that can be done to help manage current symptoms.
  • Find out different ways to cope and support yourself as you navigate life with Dementia.
  • Find out coping tips to help loved ones who are living with Dementia.

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