If you’re concerned about changes in memory, thinking, behavior, or mood, in yourself or someone you care about, contact your primary care physician. They will perform a physical exam and discuss your symptoms, and assess your mental status. Your doctor may order tests to determine if there is a physical cause for your symptoms, or refer you to a specialist.
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There is no blood test for dementia. This condition is diagnosed with:
- tests that determine your cognitive ability
- neurological evaluation
- brain scan
- lab tests to rule out a physical basis of your symptoms
- mental health evaluations to be certain that your symptoms are not caused by a condition such as depression
Because it is so difficult to diagnose dementia, you may want to get a second opinion. Don’t worry about offending your doctor or specialist. Most medical professionals understand the benefit of a second opinion. Your doctor should be happy to refer you to another doctor for a second opinion.
If not, you can contact the Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center for help by calling 800-438-4380.
The following specialists may be involved in diagnosing dementia:
- Geriatricians manage health care for older adults. They know how the body changes as it ages and whether symptoms indicate a serious problem.
- Geriatric psychiatrists specialize in the mental and emotional problems of older adults and can assess memory and thinking.
- Neurologists specialize in abnormalities of the brain and central nervous system. They can conduct testing of the nervous system as well as review and interpret brain scans.
- Neuropsychologists conduct tests related to memory and thinking.
Memory clinics and centers
Memory clinics and centers, such as the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers, have teams of specialists who work together to diagnose the problem. For example, a geriatrician can look at your general health, a neuropsychologist can test your thinking and memory, and a neurologist can use scanning technology to “see” inside your brain. Tests are often done at a single centralized location, which can speed up diagnosis.
Taking part in a clinical trial may be an option worth your consideration. Start your research at a credible place such as the Alzheimer’s Disease Clinical Trials Database. This is a joint project of the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It is maintained by the NIA’s Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral Center.
To get the most from the time with your doctor, it’s helpful to be prepared. Your doctor will ask you a series of questions about your symptoms. Writing down information ahead of time will help you answer accurately.
Questions your doctor may ask
- What are your symptoms?
- When did they start?
- Do you have them all the time or do they come and go?
- What makes them better?
- What makes them worse?
- How severe are they?
- Are they getting worse or staying the same?
- Have you had to stop doing things you used to do?
- Does anyone in your family have a genetic form of dementia, Huntington’s, or Parkinson’s?
- What other conditions do you have?
- What medications do you take?
- Have you been under any unusual stress lately? Have you had any major life changes?
Questions to ask your doctor
In addition to being prepared to answer your doctor’s questions, it is helpful to write down questions you want to ask. The following are some suggestions. Add any others to the list:
- What is causing my symptoms?
- Is it treatable?
- Is it reversible?
- What tests do you recommend?
- Will medication help? Does it have side effects?
- Will this go away or is it chronic?
- Is it going to get worse?
Being diagnosed with dementia can be very frightening. It can be helpful to talk about your feelings with your family, friends, or clergy.
You might want to consider professional counseling or a support group. Try to learn as much as you can about your condition. Make sure arrangements are made for your ongoing care, and take care of yourself. Stay physically active and involved with others. Let someone you trust help with decision-making and responsibilities.
It is also frightening if a family member is diagnosed with dementia. You, too, should talk about your feelings. Counseling may help, as can a support group. Learn as much as you can about the condition. It’s equally important that you take care of yourself. Stay active and involved in your life. It can be difficult and frustrating to care for someone with dementia, so make sure that you will have some help.