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Dementia Diagnosis, Treatment & Care

There is no one test to determine if someone has dementia. Doctors diagnose Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia based on a careful medical history, a physical examination, laboratory tests, and the characteristic changes in thinking, day-to-day function and behavior associated with each type. Doctors can determine that a person has dementia with a high level of certainty. But it’s harder to determine the exact type of dementia because the symptoms and brain changes of different dementias can overlap. In some cases, a doctor may diagnose “dementia” and not specify a type. Your healthcare provider will ask you or someone close to you about your symptoms. He will ask when your symptoms began, and if they have gotten worse with time. He may also ask if you have any family members with dementia.

  • Memory testing will be done regularly so healthcare providers can monitor memory changes over time. Healthcare providers will test your long-term memory by asking questions about how much you remember from the past. They will also test your short-term memory by asking you to remember new facts.
  • Blood tests may be used to rule out any other conditions that could be causing your symptoms. Some temporary conditions may be similar to dementia but can be treated.
  • An MRI or CT scan can help healthcare providers find damage to your brain caused by dementia. The pictures may also show an injury or blood flow problems. You may be given contrast liquid before the pictures are taken. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

Treatment of dementia depends on its cause. In the case of most progressive Dementias, including Alzheimer’s disease, there is no cure and no treatment that slows or stops its progression. But there are drug treatments that may temporarily improve symptoms. The same medications used to treat Alzheimer’s are among the drugs sometimes prescribed to help with symptoms of other types of Dementias. Non-drug therapies can also alleviate some symptoms of dementia. The goal of treatment is to help you keep your current health for as long as possible. You may need any of the following:

  • Dementia medicines may be used to help slow the decline in your memory.
  • Antipsychotics may be used to help improve your behavior, and control anger or violence.
  • Antianxiety medicine may be used to help reduce anxiety and keep you calm.
  • Antidepressants may be used to help improve your mood and reduce your symptoms of depression.

You may begin to need an in-home aide to help you remember your daily tasks. It is best to arrange for help while you are thinking clearly. The following may also help you manage your dementia:

  • Keep your mind and body active. Do activities that you love, such as art, gardening, or listening to music. Call or visit people often. This will keep your social skills sharp, and may help reduce depression.
  • Take all of your medicines as directed. This will help control medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
  • Write daily schedules and routines. Record medical appointments, times to take your medicines, meal times, or any other things to remember. Write down reminders to use the bathroom if you have trouble remembering. You may need to ask someone to write things down for you.
  • Place clocks and calendars where you can see them. This will help you remember appointments and tasks.
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause lung damage. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • Eat healthy foods. Examples are fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Ask if you need to be on a special diet.
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