How can you test for dementia? Here, we look at how dementia is diagnosed.
While there is no single dementia test, there are different methods that medical specialists use to help make a dementia diagnosis.
The first thing to understand is that dementia is an umbrella term for a set of symptoms – so the term dementia doesn’t refer to one specific condition. There are a range of different types of dementia which all have similar symptoms, so it can be difficult to test a) if a person has dementia and b) what type of dementia they may have.
Talk to a GP about dementia concerns
If you are concerned that a loved one may have dementia, speak to their doctor first, as some other health conditions can have similar symptoms including:
While a GP can’t specifically test for dementia, they can review your loved one’s medical history and carry out some initial tests, such as a physical examination, blood tests, and urine tests to rule out other conditions that may be causing their symptoms.
Specialists can help diagnose dementia
A neurologist is a specialist in brain and nerve disorders. They can order a brain scan to help identify any damage using either a computed tomography (CT) scan or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. The neurologist may also look for signs of other brain disorders, including strokes, brain tumours, Parkinson’s disease, fluid accumulation on the brain, and other conditions which may impact thinking or memory.
A psychiatrist is a specialist in emotional and behavioural disorders. They can diagnose depression or other mental health issues, and assess mental abilities. A geriatric psychiatrist specialises in the emotions and behaviour of people who are ageing. While dementia is not a mental illness, dementia symptoms can be related to mental health problems, like anxiety, depression, hallucinations and agitation.
While there’s no single dementia test, a combination of the following tests may be used by doctors to help diagnose dementia:
A doctor will look at a person’s medical history and assess any changes in their memory and thinking.
This may be used to rule out other conditions which could be causing the symptoms.
Different types of brain imaging scans can be used to rule out other conditions, or may be able to find changes which could indicate a specific type of dementia. For example, Alzheimer’s disease can sometimes be diagnosed through a brain scan.
This might include movement tests or tests of the senses, and is mostly used to rule out other medical conditions which may cause symptoms similar to dementia.
This includes testing for things like memory, problem solving, language, counting skills and concentration.
Blood or urine tests may also be used to rule out any other causes of the dementia-like symptoms such as a vitamin deficiency or an infection.