What happens in a dementia test?

If you’re worried that you or someone you know may have dementia, it is possible to do various tests to check if you may have the condition

In a nutshell

Technically, there is no such thing as an Alzheimer’s test and the condition, along with other types of dementia, cannot be completely confirmed until after a person has died and the brain is properly examined. However, doctors are still able to carry out a range of tests for early dementia and scans to diagnose the condition.

How are you tested for dementia?

Dementia has many different causes, so it’s important that you get a proper diagnosis so that the right treatment can be given. Professionals will test you in different ways depending on what they think might be the cause of your dementia.

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The mini mental state examination (MMSE)

The MMSE test is widely used and looks at short- and long-term memory, attention span, concentration, language and communication skills, ability to plan and ability to understand instructions. It takes about 30 minutes.

Strictly speaking, the MMSE test can’t diagnose dementia, but it is a useful tool for testing cognitive decline.

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Self-Administered Gerocognitive Examination (SAGE)

This is a pen and paper test designed by scientists at Ohio State University to detect early signs of cognitive, memory or thinking impairments. It evaluates your thinking abilities and helps to assess how well your brain is working. It is NOT a guaranteed diagnostic test for Alzheimer’s disease. You’d need to see your doctor or be seen by a memory expert for an official diagnosis.

You can download the test here.

Did you know? The SAGE test reportedly has a sensitivity of 79% (79% of people with mild cognitive impairment will get a positive result, while 21% of people with MCI will get a negative result).

Find out more about the memory tests here.

Blood tests

If you’re suffering from memory problems, you may be offered a blood test. This is to find out if you’re lacking in certain nutrients.

For example, a deficiency in vitamin B or thyroid problems have both been linked to memory issues, and these can be checked by examining the blood.

Brain scans

Once you’ve had a memory test and a blood test, you may be offered a brain scan.

They can include a computerised tomography (CT) scan, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or, occasionally, a single photon-emission computed tomography (SPECT) scan or positron emission tomography (PET) scan.

What next?

If you are worried that you, or someone you know might be showing symptoms of dementia, your first stop is your doctor, who can assess you properly and either put your mind at rest or help you to access the right support and treatment so that you can continue to live well. If you're worried about taking that first step, we have lots of advice to help you, including what you need to take to an initial doctor’s appointment and the sort of questions you should try to ask.