Feeling forgetful or confused? Finding out what is wrong is the first step to getting help.
In this section, we offer help sheets on every topic, issue, and concern relating to dementia that you might need support on.
Driving is something most people take for granted. It gives us freedom, flexibility and independence. While we will all need to step out from behind the wheel one day, conditions such as dementia can mean that the decision to stop driving needs to be planned for.
The National Dementia Helpline is for people with dementia, their carers, families and friends, health professionals, service providers, community organisations, students and people seeking information.
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Alzheimer's Australia has a wealth of information for health professionals.
Alzheimer's Australia provides courses for people with dementia and their carers, and nationally recognised courses for health and aged care personnel.
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A dementia-friendly community is a place where people living with dementia are supported to live a high quality of life with meaning, purpose and value. For people with younger onset dementia, this also means being given the opportunity and support to stay at work or volunteer.
Dementia Awareness Month is held annually in September. Stay tuned for an update on Dementia Awareness Month 2015 which will be coming soon.
The first step towards a diagnosis is to talk to your doctor about your concerns. It is a good idea to take a close family member or friend along to help provide the doctor with all the information they need.
It is also a good idea to take along a list of the memory and thinking changes that have been concerning you, including when you first noticed them and how often you notice them. You should also take a list of the medications you are taking or take your medications with you.
Your doctor may assess you and/or may refer you to a specialist such as a geriatrician (a specialist in illnesses and disabilities in older people), a neurologist (a specialist in disorders of the brain and nerves), or a psychiatrist (a specialist in disorders of emotion and behaviour).
The doctor usually spends some time discussing your medical history and gathering information about your changes in memory and thinking.
The symptoms of dementia can be due to a number of other possible causes, such as vitamin deficiency, infection, metabolic disorders and side effects from drugs. These other causes are often easily treated. Therefore, an early step in diagnosing dementia is to rule out these causes through a physical examination, blood tests and urine tests.
Routine laboratory tests used in the diagnosis of dementia include:
Cognitive tests are used to measure and evaluate cognitive, or ‘thinking’, functions such as memory, concentration, visual-spatial awareness, problem solving, counting and language skills.
Most doctors use short cognitive screening tests when assessing these functions. If more detailed testing is required you will be referred to a neuropsychologist – a psychologist specialising in the assessment and measurement of cognitive function.
Cognitive tests are vital in the diagnosis of dementia and are often used to differentiate between types of dementia. They can also be used to assess mood and may help diagnose depression, which can cause symptoms similar to those of dementia.
Special arrangements can be made for testing people whose first language is not English or who have communication difficulties. Your doctor can give you advice about this.
Mini-Mental Status Examination (MMSE) This test is usually conducted by your doctor or specialist in their office and takes around 5 minutes to complete. The MMSE is the most common test for the screening of dementia. It assesses skills such as reading, writing, orientation and short-term memory.
Alzheimer’s Disease Assessment Scale-Cognitive (ADAS-Cog) This 11-part test is more thorough than the MMSE and can be used for people with mild symptoms. It is considered the best brief examination for memory and language skills. It takes around 30 minutes and is usually conducted by a specialist in their office, or you may be referred to a psychologist for the test. Neuropsychological Testing This involves a number of very sensitive tests administered by a neuropsychologist (a psychologist who has been trained in the assessment of dementia and other disorders of the brain). A typical testing session will take between at least 2 hours and may be conducted over more than one visit. A variety of tests will be used and may include tests of memory such as recall of a paragraph, tests of the ability to copy drawings or figures and tests of reasoning and comprehension.
Radiological tests Standard X-rays may be taken and those who smoke will commonly require a chest X-ray to rule out lung cancer, which may be causing a secondary brain tumour. Brain imaging techniques Various brain-imaging techniques are sometimes used to show brain changes and to rule out other conditions such as tumour, infarcts (strokes – dead areas of brain tissue) and hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain); these include:
Obtaining an early and accurate diagnosis can improve the quality of life for people with dementia. Talk to your doctor about treatment and ongoing assessment. Support and information is available through Alzheimer’s Australia.
For further information on the early signs of dementia and the importance of a correct diagnosis, see the section Diagnosingdementia.
Thanks to Associate Professor David Ames for reviewing this material.
© 2006 Alzheimer's AustraliaThis publication provides a general summary only of the subject matter covered. People should seek professional advice about the specific case. Alzheimer's Australia is not liable for any error or omission in this publication, even if negligent.