How is dementia diagnosed and how bad do the symptoms get?

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My 88 year old mother has obvious signs of dementia but has never been diagnosed as such. She had an MRI recently, but it did not indicate anything abnormal (the reason for the MRI was to find the cause of her dizziness). The symptoms do not seem to be as bizarre as some of the Alzheimer symptoms, but her memory and confusion is rapidly getting worse.

Answers 1 to 10 of 11
Her Primary Physician should be able to do a standard test on her that SHOULD determine whether she is in any stage of dementia....ask them. When we started noticing changes with our Mom, we mentioned...they did the testing right then and there at her doctor's office...
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dianne.....if you are looking for a definitive diagnosis such as x-ray or MRI to show this disease....there is no such thing. As kt says, there are tests that they give and then determine whether or not there is some dementia going on. These are simple tests, such as saying three different words and then having the patient repeat them back. Or showing a picture and having them redraw it, or have them make mil failed all tests.....but I already knew she had dementia going on. It is a normal part of aging....happens sooner, later, not as severe, terribly severe, it just depends on the person. I have seen some people well into their 90's and their mind is as sharp as a tack! Others are showing signs of dementia in the early 60's. Just remember that all of the "brain diseases" fall under the category of dementia...Alzheimer's, OBS, will be up to her doctor to put her into which disease she has. I hope this helps a little bit......

Hello Dianne --

The National Institutes of Health's Senior Health resource guide has a good article on Alzheimer's Disease, its diagnosis, and treatment. Here's the section on symptoms and diagnosis: The last page of this section has a video on diagnostic techniques. For more indepth information, including research, see the NIH Medlineplus articles at

I hope this information is helpful to you and your family!

You should have your mother evaluated by a qualifed neurologist or geriatric psychiatrist specializing in Alzheimer's care ( full medical history, blood tests to rule out thyroid and other treatable conditions that mimic Alzheimer's, MRI, and cognitive tests.) If there is a diagnosis of probable dementia, get your mother started on the combination of Aricept and Namenda. These drugs have helped to reduce my mother's symptoms for over two years now and have made caring for her alot easier. Lots of luck.
Dianne you've gotten really good information so far.

I think of dementia as an umbrella that all seniors are under and each of the spokes represent the different aspects or diseases of dementia.

There are several diseases - NOT just Alzheimer's - within dementia: Lewy Body(LBD), FrontoTemporal(FTD) or Picks's Disease, Vascular Dementia. And each of these have similar and yet different aspects. And then there's the overall aging of the brain causing "senior moments" that happen to all of us as we age.

There are simple tests to see where the person is on the dementia scale: in addition to those mentioned above there is the clock drawing test, the MMSE, Folstein test. These plus a MRI or scan can give the physician a baseline of where a patient is at. The MRI/brain scan can look at brain shrinkage and where which is useful. All of these should get repeated pretty regularly to be able to evaluate whether a particular set of med's are working.

My mom has LBD and is mid-90's. LBD tends to be more episodic. For her, the antianxiety / depression med's seemed to work well without the dementia drugs until just the last 6 months. As the episodes got closer and closer and she had more false beliefs and paranoia to the point it was controlling her. Her doctor put her on the Excelon patch and continued the Remeron. Now she is much more even and relaxed. The dementia is still there but it doesn't control her constantly.

She is mid-stage dementia but it comes and goes for LBD. Her roommate is also mid-stage but is Alzheimers and is on the Aricept and Namenda combo.

Most MD's are not trained for dealing with dementia. You should try to get her to see a gerontologist who will become her primary doc and they can refer her to the neurologist, psych. or others needed for her care. Good luck.
My Mom is unable to take any of the drugs (namenda, aricept, etc.) Her paranoia and delusions are driving us crazy and no medication agrees with her. Last week the neurologist put her on risperdal...very small dose in morning and evening. One day into it, and she started with atrial fibrillation. (she has heart problems) She is 86 with stents, triple bypass, pacemaker, etc. She is extremely difficult but is still high functioning in her personal habits. Not everyone can take all these so called wonder drugs.
The response by Jess, was an excellent read, gave a lot of very good information.

I took my mother to a university who had a research program for dementia. She had very qualified psychologist and psychiatrist, as well as psychology doctoral students, and the fee was very reasonable. They met with me several times and gave me a lot practical help in knowing how to best care for my mother and what to expect as the disease progressed. I had medical doctors and neurologists test her also but found the university to be the most helpful for guiding me. The information was also very helpful when I went to court for guardianship.

Thank you so much, everyone! Yours answers were extremely helpful. I think I will start by talking to our family physican, since my mom likes her (and Mom doesn't like most people!). Mom is upset with having to go to so many doctors lately, I don't think she will be keen on seeing another doctor--at least not for awhile. Then if our doctor wants to refer her to someone, hopefully Mom will be more open to it. At least the information helps me to know where to go from here. I am hoping that some of the medications may help her. Thank you again for your wonderfully informative answers!
Hi Dianne,

All good input from the others.

When my mother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer in 1993, there weren't so many tests (or meds) being done. There are some basic tests you can do to give you an idea of were she's at so you have a little more info to help the docs, or that the doctor may do initially. They are simple cognitive function things like having the patient draw a clock, the "old fashioned" numbered type, asking them the current day, month, year, who the president is, word recall - tell them a few words, nouns, and after you ask them another question or two, ask them to repeat the words you gave them to remember.

These are only basic screening items these days, but was all they really had to go on back in the day. That and our observations of her. Sadly it was Alzhiemer's in her case. A lot of humor and accepting her for the person she was at any given point in time got us ALL through several years of progression and allowed us to enjoy our time together and build positive memories for us and our children.

God bless you both!

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