Medical History and Physical Exam for Dementia or Alzheimer's Disease - Topic Overview
A person's medical history and a physical exam are important parts of the evaluation
when the person has symptoms of
dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
The doctor will ask questions during a medical history to assess a person's past and current overall health and to find out how well the person functions.
This process may be complicated if the person isn't able to remember important parts of his or her medical history or isn't aware of the memory loss. A family member can be very helpful in providing information about
the person's symptoms, such as when the symptoms were first noticed, how
quickly they developed, and whether they have continued to get worse.
Other important information in a
medical history includes:
- Other medical problems the person has or has had, such
as a stroke, Parkinson's disease, HIV infection, depression, a head injury, heart
disease, or lipid disorders (problems with cholesterol
levels). In some cases, illnesses can cause confusion or other signs of dementia.
- Whether there is a history of Alzheimer's disease or
dementia in the family.
- The person's family, social, cultural, and
educational background, as well as any recent unusual events in the person's
life. These things can influence how a person performs on a mental status
test. And some experts believe that they may affect the risk of
- What medicines the person is taking. Some medicines
can contribute to memory loss or mental impairment. This side effect of certain
drugs is an easy problem to correct but is often overlooked as the cause of
- History of alcohol or drug abuse.
- Mood changes, hallucinations, or unusual behavior (such as lack of inhibition).
- Recent problems with forgetfulness.
The doctor will do a complete physical exam to look for conditions that could cause dementia. He or she also will assess risk factors for dementia, such as alcohol use and heart disease.
The person will also have a complete neurological exam to look for signs of a stroke, such as trouble speaking, hearing, or moving.
The doctor will ask about a change in the person's ability to perform daily tasks. The person or relative may be asked whether the person can:
- Bathe and dress himself or herself and use the toilet.
- Cook meals.
Do daily household tasks.
- Take medicines on schedule.
Drive safely and get around in usually familiar areas.