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The Diagnostic Evaluation of a Patient With Dementia

Galasko, Douglas MBBCh

CONTINUUM: Lifelong Learning in Neurology: April 2013 - Volume 19 - Issue 2, Dementia - p 397–410
doi: 10.1212/01.CON.0000429176.37224.58
Review Articles

Purpose of Review: This review outlines a practical approach to the history, mental state, neurologic examination, and laboratory tests in the diagnosis of dementia.

Recent Findings: Proposed new diagnostic criteria for Alzheimer disease recognize that nonamnestic presentations with symptoms that predominantly affect language, visuospatial abilities, or executive function may occur, particularly with onset before the age of 65. New criteria assign greater likelihood to diagnosis if progressive cognitive decline is documented through serial assessment, or if biomarkers are supportive. In patients aged 80 or older, more than one cause of dementia is often present, for example, Alzheimer disease plus vascular dementia. Clinical diagnostic criteria for non-Alzheimer dementias are evolving, particularly in areas such as frontotemporal dementia. Imaging and CSF biomarkers have been proposed in recent diagnostic criteria for Alzheimer disease. Although biomarkers can provide a higher level of certainty that Alzheimer pathology may or may not be present, biomarkers for non-Alzheimer dementias are lacking.

Summary: The availability of biomarkers does not replace or diminish the need for a thorough clinical evaluation. A structured clinical approach helps to define the diagnosis and collects information essential for establishing a comprehensive care plan for patients with dementia and their families.

Address correspondence to Dr Douglas Galasko, Department of Neurosciences, UC San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive 0948, La Jolla, CA 92093

Relationship Disclosure: Dr Galasko serves as a consultant for Elan Corporation and serves on the data and safety monitoring boards of Elan Corporation and Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Dr Galasko serves as an editor-in-chief of Alzheimer’s Research and Therapy.

Unlabeled Use of Products/Investigational Use Disclosure: Dr Galasko reports no disclosure.

© 2013 American Academy of Neurology
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