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Tests used in diagnosing dementia

2-minute read

Doctors diagnose dementia using a number of different tests.

Personal history

A doctor may talk to the person about their medical history and gather information about any changes in their memory and thinking. Due to the progressive nature of the disease, it is usually helpful to have someone close to the person affected also help with the taking of their personal history.

The doctor may at this time suggest a simple cognitive test (see below). There are also several other types of test they can do to help diagnose dementia.

Physical examination

A doctor may examine the person for any physical causes of their symptoms.

Neurological examination

This will include tests of the senses and movement to rule out other causes of dementia and to identify medical conditions that may worsen the confusion associated with dementia.

Pathology tests

A doctor may request some blood tests and urine tests to make sure there are no other causes of the symptoms, such as an infection, anaemia, electrolyte imbalance, liver function, thyroid function, medication problems or a vitamin deficiency. These tests are called a dementia screen.

Neuropsychological testing

A neuropsychologist can identify which abilities the person still has and specific problem areas such as comprehension, insight and judgement.

Cognitive testing

A doctor may use tests to check the person's cognitive or thinking functions, such as memory, problem solving, counting and language skills, concentration and more. Initially, they may perform a short screening test that only takes a few minutes, such as a mini-mental status examination (MMSE), and might refer the person to other specialist doctors for more thorough cognitive tests.

Psychiatric testing

They may look for conditions that have similar symptoms to dementia, such as depression, and check whether the person has anxiety or delusions that may need to be treated.

X-rays and scans

A doctor may request standard x-rays or a CT, MRI or PET scan to look at the brain and rule out other conditions such as a tumour, strokes or hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain).

Visit the Dementia Australia website to find out more, or call the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500.

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Last reviewed: June 2021


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