Doctors diagnose the cause of
dementia by asking questions about the person's
medical history and doing a physical exam, a
mental status exam, and lab and imaging tests.
Tests can help the doctor learn whether dementia is caused by a treatable
condition. Even for those dementias that cannot be reversed, knowing the type
of dementia a person has can help the doctor prescribe medicines or other
treatments that may improve mood and behavior and help the family.
Administration on Aging
Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving
Family Caregiver Alliance
Housing and Urban Development
National Alliance for Caregiving
National Center for Assisted Living
National Hospice and Palliative Care Center
medical history and physical exam, the doctor will ask
the affected person and a close relative or partner about recent illnesses or
other life events that could cause memory loss or other symptoms such as
behavioral problems. The doctor may ask the person to bring in all medicines he
or she takes. This can help the doctor find out if the problem might be
caused by the person being overmedicated or having a drug interaction.
Although a person may have more than one illness causing dementia,
symptoms sometimes can distinguish one form from another. For example, early in
the course of
frontotemporal dementia, people may display a lack of
social awareness and develop obsessions with eating, neither of which occurs
early in other dementias.
Mental status exam
A doctor or other health
professional will conduct a
mental status exam. This test usually involves such
activities as having the person tell what day and year it is, repeat a series
of words, draw a clock face, and count back from 100 by 7s.
tests have been developed to diagnose dementia. Doctors can use one such test,
Addenbrooke's Cognitive Examination, to distinguish
Alzheimer's disease from frontotemporal dementia.
Orientation, attention, and memory are worse in Alzheimer's, while language
skills and ability to name objects are worse in frontotemporal dementia.
Many medical conditions can cause
mental impairment. During a physical exam, the doctor will look for signs of
other medical conditions and have lab tests done to find any treatable
condition. Routine tests include: