Aging & Health A to Z
Diagnosis & Tests
If you or someone you care for is having problems with memory, language, and decision-making that seem to be getting worse, schedule an appointment with a healthcare professional, preferably a geriatrician. A geriatrician is a physician who has advanced training in caring for older adults.
If you’re having these problems, it’s best to bring a relative or close friend with you when you see a healthcare professional. If someone you know is having these problems, its best if you or another relative or close friend go with them to the appointment.
To determine whether an older adult might have dementia, a healthcare professional will:
- Ask about the person’s medical history.
- Review the prescription and over-the-counter medications, supplements, and herbal and other remedies the person is taking. These might be causing changes in mental ability, mood, and behavior. (Bring or make a list of all medications, vitamin supplements, and herbal remedies to show the healthcare provider).
- Check for signs of depression and other mental and physical health problems that can cause dementia-like symptoms.
- Ask questions about any noticeable changes in the person’s physical and mental abilities, mood, personality, decision-making, or behavior.
- Ask about possible delusions or hallucinations the older person may have had.
- Do tests of mental abilities including attention, memory, thinking, language, and decision-making skills.
- Do a complete physical exam that includes blood and other lab tests to check for underlying problems and reversible causes, such as infections, vitamin B12 deficiency, and thyroid problems.
- Possibly recommend brain scans to look for abnormalities such as brain tumors, and for evidence of strokes and other changes linked to dementia.
If you or someone you care for is not fluent in English, make sure that either the healthcare professional you see, or someone on the staff, speaks your primary language fluently and can use it during the visit.
Updated: September 2017
Posted: March 2012