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How is dementia diagnosed?

Firstly, don’t assume it’s dementia.

Remember that many conditions have symptoms similar to dementia, so it is important not to assume that someone has dementia just because some of the symptoms are present. 

Strokes, depression, alcoholism, infections, hormone disorders, nutritional deficiencies and brain tumours can all cause dementia-like symptoms.  Many of these conditions can be treated. 

A correct diagnosis is important.

Consulting a doctor to obtain a diagnosis is critical at an early stage.

A complete medical and psychological assessment may identify a treatable condition and ensure that it is treated correctly, or confirm the presence of dementia and then ensure assistance is provided.

Such an assessment might include the following:

-A detailed medical history, provided if possible by the person with the symptoms and a close relative or friend. This helps to establish whether there is a slow or sudden onset of symptoms and their progression.

-A thorough physical and neurological examination, including tests of the senses and movements to rule out other causes of dementia and to identify medical illnesses which may worsen the confusion associated with dementia.

-Laboratory tests including a variety of blood and urine tests called a “dementia screen” to test for a variety of possible illnesses which could be responsible for the symptoms. The dementia screen is available through a doctor.

-Neuropsychological testing to identify retained abilities and specific problem areas such as comprehension, insight and judgement.

-Other specialised tests such as a chest x-ray, ECG, or CT scan.

-A mental status test to check the range of intellectual functions affected by the dementia such as memory, the ability to read, write and calculate.

-Psychiatric assessment to identify treatable disorders which can mimic dementia, such as depression, and also to manage psychiatric symptoms such as anxiety or delusions, which may occur alongside a neurological disorder.

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