Pursuing a dementia diagnosis versus choosing not to seek a diagnosis are both reasonable decisions. Many primary care doctors are reluctant to test a patient for cognitive impairment or dementia. On the other hand, in response to a patient’s report of symptoms such as memory loss, providers can make use of a screening tool, the Mini Mental Status Examination (MMSE), to examine cognitive functions. The MMSE is used to evaluate orientation to time and place, ability to follow simple commands, recall, language and registration (repeating word prompts).
The MMSE as a screening tool for cognitive impairment has advantages: takes only 5-10 minutes, requires no specialized training to administer, and can be done at bedside or in the doctor’s office. The MMSE does not replace a more sophisticated neuro-cognitive evaluation, administered by a neurologist or other specialist, that includes a medical history, physical examination, lab testing, battery of tests and takes 3-4 hours to complete.
As stated on the Alzheimer’s Association website “in the case of most progressive dementias, including Alzheimer’s disease, there is no cure and no treatment that slows or stops its progression. But there are drug treatments that may temporarily improve symptoms.”
So with these discouraging facts at hand, why should someone be assessed for dementia?
- the doctor is also checking for other health problems that may cause personality or thinking changes.
- the patient’s family and caregivers can seek out as much support and access to community resources as possible.
- documentation of the diagnosis is in the patient’s medical record because treatments for symptom management or other health concerns may need to be different, e.g., how a person is sedated for medical procedures may be different for someone with dementia.
- the patient and loved ones are alerted that it is time to make legal and financial decisions and put into place a long-term care plan.
- care partners can build their care team their way because that circle of support ultimately helps sustain well-being and coping ability.