Is it Typical Memory Loss, Dementia or Alzheimer’s

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, dementia is not one single disorder but rather a group of disorders with related symptoms.

The main symptoms that characterize dementia include declines in memory, cognition, problem-solving and outright loss of memory.

Alzheimer’s disease accounts for an estimated 60+ percent of dementia diagnoses, but is far from the only type of dementia. Since patient symptoms can vary even within a single disorder, a range of memory loss screening tests are available today to evaluate overall function.

This article describes the main types of diagnostic screenings that are used to evaluate whether and/or to what degree a patient may be suffering from dementia, including but not limited to Alzheimer’s disease.

Did you know that Sisselman Medical Group offers Dementia and Memory Loss Screening at both of our Long Island Locations? If you or a loved one are concerned about memory loss or early onset dementia, contact our office today to schedule your screening.

A Dementia Diagnosis Typically Requires a Treatment Team

A patient’s diagnostic treatment team may consist of the family physician (who is often the first to spot a problem with memory), a neurologist, a geriatrician, a neuropsychologist and a psychiatrist-geriatrician, among other specialists.

Dementia and Memory Loss Screenings

The following describes a typical progression towards a definitive diagnosis of dementia.

Initial personal and family history.

The first phase of diagnosis always involves a medical history, both family history and personal history.

In particular, the physician taking this initial medical history will ask about whether other immediate or extended family members have been diagnosed with a dementia-related disorder.

Personal physical examination.

The patient will undergo a thorough physical examination. This is typically like an annual well exam but with more detail.

The physician’s goal will be to conduct a thorough medical workup to establish a baseline from which to evaluate symptoms and arrive at a diagnosis.

This initial exam will include each of the following:

– Baseline of daily diet.

– Alcohol, tobacco, substance use habits.

– Medications (prescription, OTC) and supplements, frequency and amount.

– Blood pressure, temperature and pulse.

– Check heart and lung function (listen to heart, breathing).

– Do a CBC and other blood work (thyroid function, hormone levels, et al) as deemed necessary.

– Urine sample.

– Head to toe physical exam.

– Symptoms questionnaire.

This last may include questions about all of the following and more:

– Depression or anxiety, mood disturbance.

– Sleep problems, sleep apnea or insomnia.

– Delirium.

– Energy level during the day.

– Daily schedule and habits.

Personal neurological examination.

Neurological means disorders of the nervous system and nerve functions. So this examination will look for possible brain-based causes for memory impairment. Examples can include stroke, Parkinson’s disease, encephalitis, tumors and similar causes.

Neurological exams commonly include testing hand-eye coordination, balance, memory, reflexes, eye movement, speech, muscle tone and strength, touch sensation.

The neurologist may order brain imaging scans such as MRI, CT or DAT scan to look more closely at brain function or malfunction.

Screen for dementia at home.

While a number of home screen kits exist that purport to permit patients and caregivers to identify dementia, these kits have a significant margin for error and thus may do more harm than good.

To date, the medical field as a whole has not arrived at a single all-inclusive way to deliver a definitive diagnosis of dementia. This is always a complex disorder with symptoms that can vary over time.

Mental function.

These exams may include problem-solving, cognition (thought processes), awareness of date/time/year, location, understanding and awareness of symptoms that may indicate dementia, simple math problems, follow simple instructions, memorization of a word list.

Two particular exams are often used here: the MMSE (mini mental state exam) and the Mini-Cog (mini cognition).

Food & Drug Administration (FDA) cognitive (computer)exams.

The FDA has approved the use of certain computer-driven memory screenings that may be ordered in addition to or instead of the MMSE and Mini-Cog.

Both have pros and cons. One advantage of the computer-facilitated screenings is precise and impartial administration, where exams administered by physicians may include personal bias.

Mood assessment test.

Because memory loss and dementia often includes a psychiatric component, mood testing is an important part of the diagnostic process. Specifically, screenings evaluate for depression/anxiety, apathy, delirium and similar symptoms that may impair memory.

Genetic testing.

Genetic testing for risk genes is available today for the purposes of family planning. However, genetic tests are not typically prescribed as a method of diagnosis.

Brain imaging tests.

MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and CT (computed tomography) are commonly prescribed as part of the diagnostic process. A DAT test is sometimes now being used to diagnose Parkinson’s.

Brain imaging tests can reveal tumors, strokes, head trauma, fluid accumulation, beta-amyloid levels, dopamine uptake and other important clues that can support accurate diagnosis by working from the most complete patient information available.

Did you know that Sisselman Medical Group offers Dementia and Memory Loss Screening at both of our Long Island Locations? If you or a loved one are concerned about memory loss or early onset dementia, contact our office today to schedule your screening.

Important information: If you wish to schedule a telehealth/telemedicine appoint OR read more information on COVID-19 vaccines, choose from the below options

You have Successfully Subscribed!