Dementia refers to a group of symptoms that are associated with decline in the cognitive function. Though taking an online dementia test is one way of ascertaining whether a person suffers from this condition, it is always better to seek medical help for proper diagnosis and treatment. The following write-up provides information on screening tests for dementia.
Though a loss of mental function might be brought on by old age, at times, the cognitive function might get affected due to certain mental illnesses. The age-related mild cognitive impairment could sometimes progress to dementia, which refers to a group of symptoms that hint towards the impairment of mental functions. So, what causes this condition and how is it diagnosed? Do medical practitioners use a dementia test for the diagnosis of this neurological disorder? Let’s find out.
Screening Tests for Dementia
Though one may come across online screening tests or questionnaires for the assessment of memory and reaction time, it is always better to consult a doctor for proper diagnosis. How do health care experts determine if someone is suffering from this condition or not? Is there a simple screening test that can help in the diagnosis of this condition?
Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE)
MMSE is a screening test that is widely used by the doctors. Also known as Folstein test, this screening test involves an assessment of cognitive function and other aspects such as:
- Visuospatial ability
- Word recall
- Orientation to time and place
- Language ability
If the test scores are higher than 25 out of the total score of 30, then there is no need to worry. Scores below ten indicate impairment of cognitive functions. This test is not only used as a screening test but also used to determine the severity of the impairment of cognitive function at a particular time along with the changes that take place in an affected individual over a period of time.
This is another screening test for the Alzheimer’s disease. While the MMSE takes around 5-10 minutes, the Mini-Cog test is a 3-minute test. This is a screening tool where the person suspected of suffering from mental decline is asked to do the following:
- The person taking this test is first asked to repeat three unrelated words.
- He/she is also asked to draw a clock with the numbers and hands to show a specific time.
- After the person finishes the clock drawing test, he/she is asked to recall the three words.
- A family member or a friend would also be asked to fill in a questionnaire.
If the person is unable to draw the clock properly and cannot recall the three words, further testing would be done to confirm the diagnosis and identify the underlying medical condition that could be responsible for causing cognitive impairment.
Besides this test, other tests that are used for diagnosing decline in the mental functions include:
- Abbreviated Mental Test
- Modified Mini-Mental State Examination (Modified version which includes larger number of test items and graded scoring system for a better assessment)
- Cognitive Abilities Screening Instrument
- The General Practitioner Assessment of Cognition
- The Six item Cognitive Impairment Test
- Test Your Memory Test and Informant Questionnaires on Cognitive Decline in the Elderly.
While the cognitive abilities of the affected individual can be assessed by tests that he/she takes, even the family members are often asked to fill out certain questionnaires so as to assess the cognitive abilities or the degree of impairment. Informant Questionnaires on Cognitive Decline in the Elderly comprises a set of questions that are used for the assessment of age-related cognitive impairment. The test scores can help doctors ascertain whether one is suffering from this condition or not.
When it comes to diagnosing vascular dementia, besides these neuropsychological tests, imaging procedures such as CT scan, MRI scan and ultrasound might be conducted. Routine blood tests and imaging studies are ordered as these can help the doctors in diagnosing co-existing medical conditions, if any. For instance, cognitive impairment could occur due to hydrocephalus, hypoglycemia, subdural hematoma, drug and alcohol abuse, hypothyroidism, metabolic disorders or tumors. While these conditions can be treated, there are certain medical conditions that cause progressive dementia. Unlike the aforementioned conditions, cognitive impairment due to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease is not treatable since these conditions themselves are considered incurable. However, a team of medical experts such as the physician, neuropsychologist, speech/language therapist and occupational therapist can guide the family members of the affected individual so as to manage the symptoms and make the life of the affected individual somewhat easier.
Causes and Symptoms
Though dementia is not a disease in itself, it is actually a group of symptoms that are associated with impairment of cognitive abilities. The symptoms vary depending on the part of the brain that is affected by this condition. A person suffering from this condition might come across as confused or disoriented. Though this condition is mainly observed in the elderly, at times, it might hit one before old age dawns. The affected individual may feel that he/she is not as mentally alert as he/she used to be. While some people become very forgetful and keep misplacing things, some may lose the ability to recall events that took place in the recent past.
When the cerebral cortex in the brain gets affected, one is diagnosed with cortical dementia. Alzheimer’s disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease are some of the medical conditions that are placed under this category. Since this part of the brain helps one process information and affects our ability to reason and remember things, a person suffering from this condition often suffers from loss of memory and finds it hard to recall words or events.
When the part of the brain that lies beneath the cerebral cortex is affected, one is diagnosed with subcortical dementia. Medical conditions such as Huntington’s disease and Parkinson’s disease are placed under this category.
This type of dementia is characterized by damage to brain cells due to blockage in the arteries serving the brain. Accumulation of proteins inside the nerve cells in the brain can also cause this condition. These proteins are referred to as Lewy bodies. Alcohol abuse, substance abuse, subdural hematoma, hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia or metabolic disorders are some of the contributory factors for cognitive impairment. Though the symptoms would vary depending on the area of the brain that is affected, the common signs and symptoms of this condition include behavioral problems, memory loss, difficulty in communicating, inability to use words correctly, difficulty in reasoning, problems associated with coordination and motor functions and slow reaction time.
Though some types of dementia are not treatable, drug therapy can help in slowing down the progression of this condition. If one is suffering from a type that is curable, a timely diagnosis and treatment can help in alleviating the symptoms. Those suffering from deteriorating mental functions must therefore seek medical assistance at the earliest.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.