When an older loved one begins exhibiting unusual cognitive deficits, family members are wise to take the individual to a healthcare provider to undergo evaluation. Initially, the senior will undergo a physical examination. The physician will then perform or order a series of tests to identify the underlying cause and determine if the individual is experiencing dementia.
1. Laboratory Tests
Seniors exhibit cognitive impairment for a variety of reasons. They might have respiratory, urinary tract, or other types of infections. It’s not uncommon for older adults to have hypothyroidism, malnutrition, or particular vitamin or mineral deficits. Many seniors are anemic. Blood tests reveal if any of these factors might be the reason for an aging adult’s abnormal cognition. In the event the evidence indicates an infection or thyroid disorder, medications can remedy the problem.
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2. Neurological Evaluation
Brain function may also be determined by a neurological examination. A healthcare provider or neurologist evaluates eye movements, balance, reflexes, sensation, and speech abilities. Deficits in any of these areas may indicate brain swelling and excessive fluid caused by a stroke, a tumor, or Parkinson’s disease.
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3. Mini-Cog Test
Healthcare practitioners use cognitive tests to evaluate language, memory, reasoning, and other cognitive abilities. The Mini-Cog test takes a mere three minutes to perform. The physician names three items and asks the senior to remember them. The test then progresses to drawing the face of a clock. The senior must draw the clock hands to represent the time requested and then recall the three items previously mentioned. Not being able to remember one or more of the items and drawing the clock incorrectly suggests the need for further evaluation.
4. MMSE Test
This evaluation consists of a series of 10 to 12 questions that add up to 30 points if all are answered or performed correctly. A score of 25 or higher means the senior is cognitively healthy. A score of 21 to 24 points indicates mild impairment. Scores ranging from 10 to 20 points indicate moderate impairment. Scores spanning zero to nine indicate severe impairment. The questions determine if the senior correctly comprehends the date, time, and current location. The individual must also recall three items and identify one or two physical items. Other questions include copying a basic geometrical design and counting backward from 100 by subtracting seven each time.
5. Brain Imaging Tests
Physicians often also order one or more imaging studies to identify any intracranial abnormalities. Imaging test options include an X-ray combined with a CT or MRI scan. Using the images, radiologists might find evidence of bleeding or swelling from a stroke. The individual might have one or more blocked blood vessels that are depriving neurons of nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood. PET scans are particularly useful for identifying excessive beta-amyloid protein, which is indicative of Alzheimer’s. Cognitive impairment might also be caused by Lewy body lesions often associated with Parkinson’s. These lesions also cause dementia.
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