Diagnosing Alzheimer’s or Dementia with Specialized Cognitive Testing

diagnosing alzheimer's or dementia

Screening tests aren’t enough for diagnosing Alzheimer’s or dementia

Alzheimer’s or dementia screening tests like the Mini Mental Status Exam or the MoCA don’t always detect signs of cognitive problems. This is especially true if someone is in the early stages. They also aren’t accurate enough to be used alone for a diagnosis.

If someone has dementia-like symptoms, but a physical exam, medication review, lab tests, and imaging tests don’t show any causes for the behavior, the next step is to use specialized testing.


Neuropsychological testing is the next step

A neuropsychological evaluation is essential for diagnosing someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

For example, what if your older adult doesn’t have any physical conditions that could cause dementia-like symptoms and scored well on the screening test? Those results don’t match their increasingly odd behavior in day-to-day life.

That’s when more testing is needed.


How does neuropsychological testing work?

A neuropsychologist is a psychologist who specializes in the relationship between the brain, behavior, and functioning. They’re trained in brain conditions and mental health conditions.

A neuropsychological assessment is a series of tests that help figure out the cause of someone’s cognitive issues. The testing usually includes interviews and standardized test questions.

Neuropsychological tests usually assess:

  • General intellect
  • Executive skills like sequencing, reasoning, and problem solving
  • Attention and concentration
  • Learning and memory
  • Language
  • Visual perception skills
  • Motor and sensory skills
  • Mood and behavior

Bonus: It’s fantastic if you have a chance to work with a gero-neuropsychologist. They’re even more specialized so they have a better understanding of cognitive issues that affect older adults.


How long do all these tests take?

Because the testing is comprehensive, it might take several hours to get through everything. But older adults will be able to take breaks or schedule the testing over several days.


Why seniors benefit from neuropsychological testing

Neuropsychological testing helps seniors get a more accurate and earlier diagnosis. It’s especially helpful in the earlier stages when it’s hard to say if there really is a problem.

If Alzheimer’s or dementia is found at an earlier stage, proper treatments can be started right away for maximum effectiveness.

Getting a detailed diagnosis helps families understand what specific health condition they’re up against. That way, they can plan for the future and anticipate upcoming challenges.

Testing also:

  • Provides a starting point for tracking changes in cognitive function over time
  • Guides medical decision making, like if other specialized tests or medication is needed
  • Helps with decisions around managing finances, living arrangements, or getting help with day-to-day activities


Bottom line

Other physical and mental conditions can cause dementia-like symptoms. Neuropsychological testing helps figure out if another mental health condition, like depression, could be causing the problems.

Getting to the root cause of the symptoms allows doctors to design treatments that address the real problem.


You might also like:
 5 Benefits of an Early Alzheimer’s Diagnosis
Testing for Dementia: Why the Mini Mental Status Exam Isn’t Enough
Testing for Dementia: The Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA)


By DailyCaring Editorial Team
Sources: About Health, University of Michigan
Image: Daily Mail

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