Specialized Diagnostic Tests for Dementia or Alzheimer’s: Neuropsychological Testing

diagnosing alzheimer's or dementia

Screening tests aren’t enough to diagnose Alzheimer’s or dementia

Alzheimer’s and dementia screening tests like the Mini Mental Status Exam or the MoCA don’t always detect signs of cognitive problems, especially if someone is in the early stages.

Screening tests also aren’t comprehensive enough to make a proper diagnosis. If dementia-like symptoms and a screening test both indicate that someone has cognitive issues, the next steps are to do a physical exam, medication review, lab tests, and imaging tests.

If those tests don’t show clear causes for the symptoms, the next step is to use specialized diagnostic tests for dementia. Further testing can also help figure out if another mental health condition, like depression, could be causing the behavior.

We explain when neuropsychological testing is needed, how it works, how long the testing takes, and how seniors benefit from it.




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When more sensitive diagnostic tests for dementia are needed

Sometimes an older adult doesn’t have any physical conditions that could cause dementia-like symptoms and they score well on a dementia screening test.

But what if those test results clearly don’t match their increasingly unusual behavior in day-to-day life? That’s when more complex 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

If you have a chance to work with a gero-neuropsychologist, even better. They have more specialized training so they have a deeper understanding of the cognitive issues that affect older adults.

 

How long do these diagnostic tests for dementia take?

Because this level of 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.

 

How seniors benefit from neuropsychological testing

Neuropsychological testing helps seniors get a more accurate and earlier dementia diagnosis.

When Alzheimer’s or dementia are discovered earlier, proper treatments can be started right away for maximum effectiveness. A diagnosis also helps families plan for the future and anticipate upcoming challenges.

This type of specialized testing is especially helpful in earlier dementia stages when it’s more difficult for doctors to figure out the true cause of unusual behavior.

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 are needed
  • Helps with decisions around managing finances, living arrangements, or getting help with day-to-day activities

 

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By DailyCaring Editorial Team
Image: Daily Mail


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