How is Dementia Diagnosed?
What is Dementia?
The National Institute on Aging defines dementia as a loss of cognitive function (1). Generally associated with old age, this condition impacts a person’s ability to reason, remember, or think things through. Dementia is an overarching category, not a specific diagnosis; there are several different types. Most people are probably familiar with Alzheimer’s disease, which accounts for between 60 and 80 percent of cases (2). However, older adults may also develop Lewy body dementia, vascular dementia, or frontotemporal dementia. Experts estimate that around a third of adults over the age of 85 will develop one of these conditions.
What Causes Dementia?
Despite its prevalence, dementia should not be considered a normal part of aging. It occurs as a result of brain cell damage. Disorders in this category are caused by a variety of factors, including blood vessel blockages in the brain, microscopic brain bleeds, and thyroid issues. No matter what catalyzed the damage, the result is the same: disruptions in brain cell communication. When this happens, a person begins to think, feel, and act differently.
As your loved one ages, you may begin to observe some behavioral changes. Sometimes, these subtle signs indicate the beginnings of cognitive decline. Below are some common symptoms of dementia that you might spot in day-to-day life.
- Problems with short- and long-term memory
- Difficulty remembering appointments
- Losing their purse or wallet frequently
- Forgetting to pay bills on time
- Struggling to read, write, or express themselves
- Wandering and getting lost
- Repeating themselves
- Taking a long time to complete everyday tasks
- Becoming more impulsive
- Disregarding others’ feelings
- Difficulty following conversations
- Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there (hallucinating)
How is Dementia Diagnosed?
Medical professionals use different criteria to diagnose their patients. They conduct a thorough mental status exam, which is then compared with the results of the patient’s imaging and lab tests. Blood and hormone panels help doctors to rule out conditions that cause similar symptoms, like thyroid disease and diabetes.
Typical mental status exams involve asking the patient:
- What day or year it is
- To count backward from 100 by 7s
- To repeat a series of words
- To draw a clock face
- Whether they are aware of any symptoms
While several at-home dementia tests have been marketed to consumers, the Alzheimer’s Association cautions against purchasing them. With a lack of scientific validation and a high rate of false positives, these screening kits often deliver incorrect results. The only way to accurately diagnose dementia is to take your loved one to a qualified health care professional.
Treatment and Care
No one wants to hear that someone they love has dementia. However, for many families, receiving a diagnosis provides much-needed answers and next steps. While most conditions in this category cannot be cured, there are a few interventions that may alleviate symptoms.
- Medications like memantine (Namenda), cholinesterase inhibitors (Aricept, Exelon, Razadyne), and antidepressants
- Occupational therapy to improve home safety, reduce the risk of falls, and teach valuable coping behaviors
- Changing the environment: reducing clutter and removing hazardous items can improve your loved one’s ability to focus, function, and avoid injury
If your loved one’s dementia has progressed, their doctor might recommend that you find a local home care provider. These professionals offer a myriad of services, including:
- Meal preparation
- Medication reminders
- Personal hygiene care
- Transportation to and from medical appointments
- Feeding assistance
- Bathing and dressing
- Mobility support
- Light housekeeping and laundry
- Mental stimulation
If you’re struggling to meet your loved one’s changing needs, or if you want to help them age at home, this can be an excellent option. Care Companions, like the ones at Legacy Homecare LA, keep your loved one entertained, comfortable, and safe.
Compassionate Home Care is One Call Away
For us, dementia care is personal. Our CEO founded Legacy Homecare LA to honor his late grandfather, a WWII veteran who developed Alzheimer’s at age 82. We know what it’s like to need empathetic, qualified home care services. Informed by twenty years of combined industry experience, our leadership has brought together a team of highly trained Care Companions. Together, we deliver the best home care experience Los Angeles has to offer.
- National Institute on Aging, https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/what-is-dementia
- Alzheimer’s Association, https://www.alz.org/alzheimers-dementia/what-is-dementia