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What Constitutes as a Proper Dementia Diagnosis?

by Carole Larkin, Alzheimer's & Dementia Expert
June 06, 2013

Question: My grandfather had a very short screening process for Dementia which makes me skeptical of the process. What constitutes a proper diagnosis?

Answer: It is a misconception that most people with dementia have been “properly” diagnosed. No, the minority of people with a form of dementia have been “properly diagnosed”, even if they’ve been to a doctor. A proper diagnosis is not a 5-10 minute screening test (most common is the MMSE) and the doctor handing the person or family member a prescription for Aricept or one of the other cholinesterase inhibitors. A “proper” diagnosis includes Neuropsychological testing (3-4 hours), a picture of the brain (MRI, PET scan) and specialized blood tests. Some people get spinal fluid testing as well. One reason that a proper diagnosis is preferred is because some dementias are treatable ( a small percentage), and a proper diagnosis can lead to treatment if it is discovered the person has one of those. Additionally, it allows the  family to get their legal work in order (Powers of Attorney, living wills or directive to physicians,) while the person is still deemed to be competent, thus saving strife and unneeded stress later in the person’s life.

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Carole Larkin MA, CMC, CAEd, QDCS, EICS is a geriatric care manager who specializes in helping families with Alzheimer’s and related dementias issues. She also trains caregivers in home care companies, assisted livings, memory care communities, and nursing homes in dementia specific techniques for best care of dementia sufferers. Her company, ThirdAge Services LLC, is located in Dallas, TX.

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