Getting a diagnosis of dementia is a complicated, lengthy and often painful process. While cases are different from individual to individual, Dementia Australia feels that all individuals have the human right to:
A prompt and thorough diagnosis by qualified medical staff, preferably within two months of the suspected onset of dementia, is the first step in this process. Detecting dementia will involve: checking for any underlying medical conditions, and then pursuing those conditions with treatment. If you feel that you have dementia, it is important that you seek medical attention quickly to avoid further devastating brain changes. The sooner you get a proper diagnosis, the easier it will be to treat any underlying medical conditions that may be causing your dementia.
One of the most common early symptoms of dementia is memory loss. As the most common early symptoms of dementia usually begins in the elderly, those aged 65 and over are twice as likely as younger people to experience memory loss. This is often accompanied by thinking problems, difficulty with language, inability to make decisions or concentrate, and emotional swings. Dementia is also more common in people suffering from depression and anxiety. These factors are often present in the elderly but depression and anxiety tend to worsen the symptoms of memory problems.
A medical history review is very important when investigating dementia. Your doctor needs to know about any pre-existing medical conditions, especially diabetes or heart disease. Dementia is a growing concern because it is more common in those who are obese or have other health problems. Your doctor needs to know if you smoke, drink alcohol or have a family history of depression or anxiety disorders, all of which can increase the risk of developing dementia.
Neuropsychological tests are also important when investigating the development of dementia. Patients with mild cognitive impairment and normal brain functions can develop dementia, even if they have no family history of the disorder. Other types of dementia require specific tests, such as neuropsychological tests that measure the patient’s ability to remember and to process information. Neuropsychological tests can also reveal the existence of other psychiatric illnesses such as paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and major depression.
The second way, your doctor will evaluate your case is through examining your memory. A clinical dementia assessment evaluates your ability to remember things, both short-term and long-term. The examiner will ask you to recall details and perform a series of tasks that require both memory and thinking skills. You’ll probably be asked to complete a number of cognitive assessments to determine your level of thinking abilities. In a normal healthy person, thinking skills are balanced and in optimal shape. If you suffer from dementia, however, you may have a condition called ‘word-finding dysfunction’.
Your third step in the medical assessment is the use of brain scans. MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and PET (positron emission tomography) scans will help your doctor to determine where a problem might be originating from. These two kinds of imaging technology can show you how different parts of your brain are working. The results from these tests will allow your doctor to see if there are any areas of the brain that are malfunctioning or whether they are getting worse because of some other cause. It will allow him or her to rule out the presence of other psychiatric illnesses in your medical history.
Most people with dementia start to lose cognitive ability fairly early in their lives. Often it takes up to several years before dementia symptoms begin to interfere with day-to-day activities. Because different types of dementia have different symptoms, you’ll need to undergo many memory tests to get an accurate diagnosis. Once a diagnosis is made, the most effective treatment is often medication for mild and moderate cases of dementia.