When Should I Start Getting Tested for Dementia?

When should you get tested for dementia? Talk to your primary care doctor if you're worried about symptoms.

The medical community typically doesn’t support widespread screenings for dementia for adults without symptoms. There’s insufficient evidence to support the use of these screenings, according to the U.S. Preventive Task Force. 

Furthermore, results from diagnostic and home tests are unreliable, which means results from these tests can cause undue worry. Of course, if you or a loved one frequently experience pronounced memory loss, disorientation or confusion, it’s time to talk to your doctor about an evaluation.

Forgetfulness vs. Dementia
Everyone has memory lapses now and then. And they tend to increase in frequency as we age. Examples include forgetting to purchase an item while shopping or someone’s name or where you placed your glasses. 

But there are a few tell-tale signs that can help you distinguish between normal forgetfulness and pronounced memory loss. For instance, if a loved one has cognitive impairment, they:

  • Won’t remember forgotten information. If it’s just forgetfulness, the information will eventually be retained. 
  • Will have changes in skills and personality traits. You may notice their ability to perform daily living activities like taking medicine, bathing or brushing their teeth begin to wane.
  • May struggle driving and/or become disoriented while driving through familiar places.
  • May exhibit a pattern. How often does your loved one forget names and locations? Occasionally? Weekly? Daily? Is the forgetfulness/confusion/disorientation getting worse?

If your loved one exhibits these types of symptoms, talk to a doctor. They’ll probably perform some simple tests. 

Testing for Dementia
The first step will likely be checking speech skills, eye movements, reflexes and coordination to determine how well the nervous system and brain are working together. This will probably by followed by screenings for issues that often have dementia-like symptoms such as underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), folate, vitamins B-6 and B-12 deficiencies, depression, stress and sleep disorders. Fortunately, these conditions are manageable with medications.

Next up will be tests for short-term memory, attention, recall, language and visuospatial skills. Typically, your loved one may be given a word and asked to provide a synonym and antonym. Or shown a picture of objects, asked to memorize it and a recall it a short time later. They may be asked to assemble a simple object or to fit shapes in holes.

If your loved on performs poorly,  the doctor may refer them to a neurologist, neuropsychologist, geriatric psychiatrist or geriatrician for more comprehensive evaluation. This could include a CT scan or MRI to identify brain structure issues. 

Of course, the specialist may simply diagnose your loved one with mild cognitive impairment (MCI).  This doesn’t mean they will develop dementia. MCI is not dementia, and it may be reversed if a general health condition like sleep deprivation is the root cause the decline.

Keep in mind, your loved one, like many people, may choose not to be evaluated. Many people don’t want to worry over the possibility. Of course, knowing if your loved one is suffering from cognitive loss will help you plan for the future.

Most importantly, work with your doctor. You and your loved ones can help lower your risk of developing cognitive issues by living a brain-healthy lifestyle. If you don’t have consider partnering with MDVIP. MDVIP-affiliated doctors have the time and tools to develop a personalized wellness program that can help you maintain your cognitive health and reduce your risk for dementia. Find an MDVIP affiliate near you and begin your partnership in health »

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