Sorting out Symptoms of Disorders
by Bill Jamison
How do you sort out symptoms of dementia, old age, other mental disorders?
Physicians look at several factors when attempting to establish the origin of a person's mental deficiency:
- Medical history / personal profile
- Written exams
- Lab tests
- Diagnostic imaging
For example, history of head injury (e.g., car accident, career in boxing or football) points to trauma as a possible cause of the symptoms.
Similarly, a history of strokes, substance abuse, brain infections (e.g., meningitis), seizures, or family history of mental disorders, etc. are important clues. True dementia (such as Alzheimers) is uncommon before age 65, so age is also a factor.
Lacking any medical history of this sort, the doctor may order written tests such as the MMSE (Mini-Mental State Exam), AMTS (Abbreviated Mental Test Score), or CASI (Cognitive Abilities Screening Instrument). These tests are an easy way to help screen for mental status and certain pathological conditions.
Blood tests can be run to rule out treatable causes. Some examples: Vitamin B12, Folic Acid, thyroid-stimulating hormone, full blood count, renal function, and a few others.
CT scans, MRIs, and PET scans can sometimes help with diagnosis as well. PET scans in particular can be very helpful in diagnosing Alzheimers.
As you can see, diagnosis can be straightforward or tricky depending on the individual.