Diagnosing and Managing Dementia: What Every Adult Should Know

Changes in your brain begin years before the symptoms of dementia appear. That’s why we encourage you to call Neurological Associates of West Los Angeles at the first sign of memory loss rather than give the disease more time to worsen before starting treatment.

Whether you can’t retrace your steps to find misplaced keys, can’t remember names, or you suddenly struggle to complete a familiar task, we’re available to answer your questions and help you find answers.

We understand the natural fear that can arise when memory problems begin, so we don’t make you wait. We schedule quick appointments and perform an expert evaluation. Once we determine the underlying cause of your memory loss, you can depend on us to provide compassionate, long-term care for all types of dementia.

Different types of dementia

Dementia refers to a group of health conditions that share a key characteristic: They all lead to memory loss and an incurable decline in cognitive abilities, such as thinking and reasoning. There are four types of dementia that progressively worsen over the years:

Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed in 60-80% of all dementia patients, which makes it the most common type of dementia. Alzheimer’s occurs as pieces of beta amyloid protein form clusters of plaque around nerve cells, and pieces of tau protein form tangles inside the nerves.

Vascular dementia

The second most common type of dementia, vascular dementia occurs when damaged blood vessels interrupt blood flow to your brain. Vascular dementia may develop after a major stroke, a series of small strokes, or due to vascular disease, such as atherosclerosis.

Lewy body dementia

Lewy body dementia develops when alpha-synuclein proteins accumulate in nerves in your brain. When a protein deposit occurs, it’s called a Lewy body. If Lewy bodies develop after you’re diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, the condition is called Parkinson’s dementia.

Frontotemporal dementia

Frontotemporal dementia is caused by brain degeneration that’s also linked to the accumulation of proteins. If you have Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, or Lewy body dementia, the first symptom is usually memory loss. By comparison, the earliest symptoms of frontotemporal dementia are changes in personality and behavior, with memory loss appearing in later stages.

Diagnosing dementia

When diagnosing dementia, we take a detailed medical history, learn about your current symptoms, perform a thorough physical exam, and order lab tests as needed to rule out any underlying medical conditions. We also perform a neurological exam and tests to evaluate your memory and thinking skills.

Here are two examples of the memory tests we often use to diagnose dementia:

Mini-mental state exam

The mini-mental state exam consists of a series of questions that are scored to determine whether you have dementia and, if so, if it’s mild, moderate, or severe. For example, we may ask you to tell us the season, the day of the week, spell a word backwards, or read and follow a simple task.

Mini-cog test

With this exam, we ask you to complete two tasks. First, we name three objects and ask you to repeat them a few minutes later. Secondly, we ask you to draw a clock showing all 12 numbers. Then we give you a time and ask you to show that time on the clock.

Following your exam and memory testing, we can usually tell whether you have dementia. However, the different types of dementia share similar symptoms, which means that determining the exact type of dementia may take additional testing.

We may order highly specialized blood tests or a spinal tap to test for the presence of dementia-related proteins. We may also perform imaging tests. MRI and CT scans can show shrinkage in areas of your brain and evidence of strokes and vascular damage, while positron emission tomography can reveal abnormal deposits of beta-amyloid and tau proteins.

Managing dementia

We work closely with each patient and their family members to create a plan for managing dementia that includes every aspect of care. Depending on the type of dementia and its current stage, we may prescribe medications to improve memory and diminish the existing symptoms. A variety of medications are also available to relieve specific psychological, behavioral, or motor symptoms.

Beyond medication, supporting patients with dementia — helping them enjoy life and stay independent as long as possible — demands a multidisciplinary approach. Lifestyle, environmental, and social changes may be designed to support your ability to function, stay safe, and stay engaged with friends and family.

If you or a loved one has dementia or needs a diagnosis, book an appointment online or over the phone with Neurological Associates of West Los Angeles. We’re here for you, and we’ll provide all the support and care you need.

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