Skip to Content
You are here:

Understanding How Doctors Diagnose Dementia

filter form

Find a Community:

Filter By:
Advanced Search:

Understanding How Doctors Diagnose Dementia

If an elderly parent or other senior loved one is beginning to exhibit what we think of as the classic signs of Alzheimer’s --- forgetfulness and confusion --- family members often turn to their physician for help. What people are often surprised to learn is that the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s takes time and a series of testing. There is no one test that will conclusively diagnose the disease.


How is Dementia Diagnosed?

The physician will likely begin with a screening in their office to evaluate memory and recall. Based on their findings, they may move on to test for other illnesses that mimic dementia. A few common and typically reversible conditions that can be mistaken for dementia include:


  • Thyroid disease

  • An infection of some type, especially a urinary tract infection

  • Severe vitamin B12 deficiency

  • Medication side effects or interactions

  • Dehydration

If a primary care physician eliminates other potential causes of the troubling symptoms a family is witnessing, the next step might be a referral to a neurologist.


Who Diagnoses Dementia?

Neurologists are often the type of physician other health care professionals defer to when Alzheimer’s is indicated. Families can help the neurologist make an accurate diagnosis by being well-prepared for their first visit.


  • Follow Pre-Appointment Protocols: The neurologist may have pre-appointment protocols in place that should be completed prior to the first appointment. It often includes ensuring copies of previous testing are sent to their office and obtaining any necessary bloodwork.

  • Organize Your List of Concerns: Another step you can take to make the most of your visit with the neurologist is to organize your list of concerns. Some family caregivers find it helps to document the behaviors and symptoms they are worried about on a calendar or in a journal. Then use that to create a list to share with the neurologist.  

  • Medication List: Be certain to bring a list of your senior loved one’s current medications, including both prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines.  Also make sure the list includes dosage amounts and the prescribing physician. 

The First Visit with a Neurologist: What to Expect

Many neurologists follow a standard protocol when evaluating an adult for Alzheimer’s disease. The protocol usually includes:


  • A physical exam to check for other health conditions

  • A neurological exam that includes testing reflexes, balance, muscle strength, and coordination

  • A mental status test to evaluate cognitive health

The neurologist may also order brain imaging tests such as a CT scan, an MRI or a PET scan.


More Information on Memory Care:

FAQs About Memory Care

How Much Does Memory Care Cost?

When is it Time to Consider Memory Care?

Tips for Assessing Memory Care Programs

Early Signs of Alzheimer's Disease

Helping Your Loved One Transition to Memory Care 
Types of Dementia


Explore More Helpful Resources

Early Signs of Alzheimer's

The onset of dementia may not be immediately obvious to adult children and caregivers. At first the warning signs of Alzheimer’s are easy to overlook or dismiss. Continue reading to learn more about early warnings signs.

Learn More

When is it Time to Consider Memory Care?

From the time you first began to notice the early signs of dementia, you’ve probably found yourself wondering how you would know when it’s time to consider moving a parent to memory care. Continue reading to learn more.

Learn More

Memory Care FAQs

Memory care is a type of senior care families who have a loved one with Alzheimer’s should become familiar with. Continue reading to find answers to the questions families ask us most frequently.

Learn More
Back to top