The Diagnosis of Dementia

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If you are concerned that you may have dementia, it's important to speak with a healthcare provider and start the diagnostic process as soon as possible. 

Though there is no single "dementia test," healthcare providers can use your medical history and a combination of tests to evaluate your symptoms and determine the cause.

This article walks you through what it takes to diagnose dementia and out other possible causes for dementia-like symptoms. It also discusses how to cope with a diagnosis.

Doctor talking to older patient

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Self/At-Home Testing

If you're worried about possible signs of dementia, you may want to keep a record of how often you notice these memory and thinking problems. You can even ask a family member or close friend how often they've noticed them.

There is also a cognitive assessment called the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Exam (SAGE) that is available online for people to use in the comfort of their own homes.

You can take the test at home and see how you do, but be aware that the results should be brought to a healthcare provider for review.

Usually, you will want to start with your primary care provider (PCP). Some PCPs will handle this evaluation completely themselves, while others will refer you to a specialist in memory and cognition.

Tests for Diagnosing Dementia

There is no single test that can determine if someone has dementia. Instead, healthcare providers use a collection of tests, scans, and assessments to determine what is causing your symptoms.

The tests that your healthcare provider orders will depend on what other symptoms you're having, in addition to the changes in your cognitive abilities. Testing aims to learn more about what is causing your problems.

Medical History

You should share with your practitioner any symptoms you're having, in addition to your memory and thought process difficulties. This includes things like changes in balance or walking, coordination, activity level, and overall health. Note how long you've had the symptoms and the impact they're having on your life.

Also give your provider a complete list of the medications that you're taking. This includes any over-the-counter supplements or natural products you're taking, since they may interact with your prescriptions or with each other.

Cognitive Tests

Cognitive tests are used to evaluate thinking abilities such as memory, concentration, problem-solving, and language skills.

Many tests have been developed to evaluate a person's mental ability, most of which take 15 to 30 minutes to complete. Some of the most commonly used cognitive tests include:

Blood Tests

Your healthcare provider may order blood tests to rule out other causes of your symptoms. Some of the most common blood tests investigate:

  • Infection
  • Electrolyte levels 
  • Kidney function
  • Liver function
  • Thyroid function
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency

Brain Scans

A healthcare provider may also use brain scans to rule out other conditions that can cause dementia-like symptoms, such as brain tumors and stroke. For example, scans can help determine whether a person has vascular dementia (due to reduced blood flow to the brain) or Alzheimer's.

Computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are the most common type of brain scans used to check for these problems in the brain.

Types of Dementia

Sometimes, the diagnosis from the healthcare provider is labeled as a specific type of dementia, such as Alzheimer's, Lewy body dementia, vascular dementia, or frontotemporal dementia. This can help direct effective treatment and help you develop appropriate expectations for how the dementia may progress over time.

Sometimes a healthcare provider will simply diagnose you as having "dementia." This is because it can be difficult to determine which type is actually causing the symptoms. There are several kinds of dementia, and further testing may help clarify your specific type.


Strategies for Coping with a Dementia Diagnosis

In some cases, dementia symptoms may also be caused by more than one medical condition, such as the case of mixed dementia. Mixed dementia is diagnosed when it's suspected or known that two or more diseases are causing dementia, such as a combination of Alzheimer's and vascular dementia.

Why Diagnosis Is Important

Some people feel like they'd rather not know if they have dementia if there's no cure available at this time. However, there are several benefits of an early diagnosis.

Even though receiving a dementia diagnosis is difficult, it can also help explain why you've been having a harder time with your memory or decisions. Some people report feeling relief in knowing the cause of these symptoms.

There's also a benefit to knowing about your dementia so you can take the opportunity to make decisions for your future and communicate them to those around you.

Misdiagnosis and Second Opinions

One of the common reactions to a difficult situation is denial. It's not unusual to say, "I don't think this is correct. It's got to be something else." While this questioning may be a part of the grieving process of this diagnosis, it could also have its merits.

It's not always a bad idea to get a second opinion. Memory problems, confusion, and sluggishness aren't always a sign of dementia. Treatable conditions like dehydration, vitamin deficiency, and depression also have similar symptoms. It's possible that your dementia-like symptoms could be from a reversible condition that, once treated appropriately, could improve.

You have nothing to lose by getting a second opinion. If a second opinion provides you with some peace of mind, it may be well worth it, even if it doesn't change the diagnosis.


If you are concerned that you're experiencing dementia, keep a record of your symptoms and discuss them with your healthcare provider. There are screening tests you can take online before your visit. A dementia diagnosis will be based on your history and symptoms, thinking and memory testing, and perhaps blood tests or brain scans to get more information.

A Word From Verywell

Trying to figure out the cause of your symptoms can seem daunting. But getting an early and accurate diagnosis is the first step toward getting the help and support you need to manage your symptoms.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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