It’s common knowledge that chances of suffering from dementia increase as we age. According to the National Institutes of Health, looking at data from 2002, dementia prevalence among people in the U.S. who were 71 and older was nearly 14 percent. Within that demographic, the rate was 5 percent through those as old as 79, but 37.4 percent for those 90 and older. The older one gets then, it’s likely one of the questions that becomes more pressing is, “How is dementia diagnosed?”
Good question, because it’s not a simple answer. Locking yourself out of the house or forgetting an appointment is proof of nothing – nor, necessarily, is feeling like everything is fine. There’s no simple blood test or swab to check for the numerous varieties of dementia. What clinicians will likely look for to determine a diagnosis of dementia is what isn’t there. When symptoms like memory loss or difficulty communicating do appear, there is reason to get checked. But health professional don’t look for dementia so much as they try to eliminate other possible causes for these symptoms.
The Mayo Clinic lists an easy-to-understand guide for how this renowned institution goes about diagnosing dementia. Step 1 is cognitive and neuropsychological tests. In other words, clinicians assess a patient’s thinking. Tests to follow may be neurological evaluation (movement, reflexes, balance), brain scans (to rule out a stroke or tumor as the cause of symptoms), blood tests (to rule out other direct causes, such as a thyroid problem), and psychiatric evaluation (to eliminate depression or a similar condition).
Should the diagnosis of some type of dementia be confirmed, there are treatments and therapies that may ease symptoms. Better news, perhaps, is that recent research shows that – at least in Europe – the incidence of dementia seems to be lessening dramatically, thanks to more attention on prevention.
“There are nearly 100 different forms of dementia and there is no reason to believe that the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease has declined,” Forbes reported in August 2013, citing this new data from across the Atlantic. “But with education, better monitoring of blood pressure, and better diet and exercise, we can reduce the prevalence of certain other dementias, especially for those in their 80s. The Europeans already have.”