8 Tests For Finding Cognitive Errors In Dementia Patients

Updated August 28, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

When it comes to testing and finding cognitive errors in dementia patients, physicians have a variety of methods to choose from. Dementia — a general medical term that encompasses various symptoms indicating a decline in one’s mental functioning — is found in 5 to 8% of all adults over the age of 65. The rate doubles every 5 years after this age. Dementia is typically caused by damage or a loss in function in one part of the brain. Alzheimer’s Disease accounts for 60 to 70% of dementia cases.

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It is imperative that friends and relatives of older patients remain alert for any signs or symptoms of dementia. The earlier the diagnosis, the higher the chance a patient has of benefiting from treatment for cognitive errors resulting from dementia. Read on to learn what signs of dementia to watch for, how your loved one could be tested for cognitive errors and different treatment options you can choose from.

Dementia: A Quick Overview

Dementia is not a single neurological disease. Instead, it is a term that is typically used to describe a set of symptoms that negatively affect one’s memory, thinking, and social abilities. These symptoms are often severe enough to disrupt one’s normal schedule. Mental health disorders can also develop as a result of a dementia patient’s cognitive distortions, such as personalization or catastrophizing.

Although Alzheimer’s Disease is the leading cause of dementia, there are a number of other causes of the disease that physicians may explore. Dementia is sometimes linked to other neurological disorders such as Huntington’s Disease, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Parkinson’s Disease, and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. Together, these disorders can cause serious cognitive errors in a patient.

Top 8 Types of Tests for Detecting Cognitive Errors in Patients with Dementia

Cognitive errors are usually observed in patients with dementia. Therefore, most physicians choose to test for these cognitive errors in order to determine with or not their patient has a neurological disorder. Neurologists, neuropsychologists, geriatricians, and geriatric psychiatrists are often employed to conduct these examinations. Here are the 8 most common types of tests physicians can use to detect cognitive errors in patients.

1. Physical Exam

During an appointment for a physical exam, a physician will inquire about their patient’s diet, alcohol consumption, list of medications, and any general health factors — including genetic predispositions or incidents of family health problems — they should know about. The doctor may also ask what symptoms or cognitive errors the patient is experiencing, when they began, how often they occur, and whether they have gotten worse over time.

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Once the physician is finished reviewing their patient’s health history, they will start the physical exam part of the appointment. The physical exam may give the physician further insight into what is causing the cognitive errors in their patients. The exam usually entails listening to the patient’s heart and lungs, checking their blood pressure and pulse, and collecting urine or blood samples for lab testing.

Data collected from physical exams and diagnostic questions can be used to detect other common cognitive issues or health problems causing symptoms of dementia. Thyroid problems, untreated sleep apnea, and depression can present themselves in symptoms that could easily be mistaken for dementia. Physicians sometimes conduct these physical exams to rule out dementia in patients, as these diseases can usually be cured or overturned with treatment.

2. Neurological Exam

Neurological exams are also conducted to look for common cognitive disorders or diseases that aren’t related to dementia. During a neurological examination, the doctor will test the patient’s coordination, speech, reflexes, eye movement, and sensory functions. They will also try to find signs of a stroke, symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, and evidence of brain tumors. Sometimes, a physician performs a brain imaging study to take a closer look at its current structure.

If the physician does not find signs and symptoms of dementia in the evaluation but they instead continue to grow worse, they may have to perform more tests in the future. Some patients choose to acquire second or third opinions when this happens.

3. Mental Status Test

The physician may also perform a mental status test to evaluate common cognitive skills and problem-solving abilities in their patient. This may entail asking the patient if they know the time or where they are. The health care professional might also ask the patient to remember a list of short words or to follow a set of instructions. The Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE) and the Mini-Cog Test are the most common mental status exams that physicians use.

Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE)

During an MMSE, a physician will ask the patient a list of questions pertaining to their regular, daily mental skills. Patients can score a maximum of 30 points. Scores under 24 suggest a form of dementia, from mild to serious at 12 points. On average, patients with Alzheimer’s score lesser by two to four points every year.

Mini-Cog Test

In a Mini-Cog Test, the physician asks the patients to finish two basic tasks. The first involves remembering the names of 3 basic familiar objects that were given to the patient several minutes earlier. The second task requires the patient to draw a clock containing all of the numbers in the proper order and with the hands placed at a specific time picked by the health care professional.

4. Home Screening Test

While there are a variety of dementia screening tests on the market, none of them have been scientifically backed by any research center or university. Sometimes, the tests even produce false-positive results. As a result, many physicians discourage patients from using home screening tests as a substitution for undergoing a thorough examination by a professional health provider. Unlike a home test, a physician can successfully screen for any cognitive distortions of problems with a lower chance of dealing with any errors or confusion.

5. Computerized Test

The U.S. FDA recently approved various computerized cognitive tests. These tests are designed to evaluate one’s thinking, learning, and memory skills. Some health professionals prefer this method, as it allows them to conduct the tests in the exact same manner every time one is performed.

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Physicians will sometimes use these FDA-approved computerized tests along with one of the mental status tests to discover any common cognitive problems with a patient. Using multiple tests allows the physician to examine the patient’s symptoms and cognitive errors in a much clearer manner.

6. Mood Assessment

Physicians may elect to perform a mood assessment on their patients using a comprehensive questionnaire. The questions are designed to measure levels of depression and mood disorders in the patient. These disorders sometimes cause cognitive distortions in patients with dementia.

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7. Brain Imaging

Physicians can order a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or Computed Tomography (CT) scan when attempting to detect Alzheimer’s Disease in a patient. MRI and CT scans can catch tumors, evidence of a stroke, damage, and fluid build-up in the brain. As a result, these scans are often used to rule out other conditions that cause symptoms similar to those found in patients with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Brain imaging tools can also be used to measure levels of beta-amyloid in a patient. High levels of beta-amyloid are a common cognitive symptom of Alzheimer’s Disease. As technology continues to advance, so too will our methods for using brain imaging to detect dementia and cognitive distortions in patients.

8. Genetic Testing

Over the years, researchers have discovered that certain genes can increase someone’s risk of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. Testing for APOE-e4, the strongest risk gene for Alzheimer’s disease, is available. However, most doctors and specialists do not recommend undergoing the usual genetic testing for dementia. Current testing cannot confidently predict whether someone definitely has or will have Alzheimer’s. Instead, it just measures an individual’s risk of developing the disease.

Patients can also undergo testing for deterministic genes that result in autosomal dominant Alzheimer’s disease (ADAD). ADAD is not a common form of Alzheimer’s and it comprises less than one percent of cases. Researchers have found that ADAD tends to start earlier in a patient’s life, oftentimes as early as the 30s and that it tends to run in families.

Benefits of Early Assessments

Individuals showing signs of memory loss, cognitive distortions, and symptoms commonly associated with dementia may consider undergoing testing. Should medical professionals detect any cognitive errors, they will quickly compile a plan of treatment. This may entail enrolling in cognitive therapy or learning to simplify their routines.

Detecting dementia early on is beneficial for the patient, as it gives them more time to plan for the future while also increasing their chances of benefitting from the treatment. Patients also have a higher chance of participating in clinical drug trials and participating in decisions about their health care plans.

Common Symptoms of Dementia

Cognitive distortions and errors are often observed in dementia patients. Family members and caretakers should keep an eye out for these symptoms.

Common symptoms include:

  • Forgetting information or events that occurred recently
  • Repeating questions and comments within a short timespan
  • Misplacing items
  • Not remembering the time or date
  • Having trouble with finding the right words to say
  • Experiencing a frequent change in mood, behavior, or interests
  • Cognitive distortions, including irrational thought patterns

Should you observe any of these issues or cognitive distortions, you might want to bring up these observations to your loved one or their family members. The sooner you can start treatment, such as medication or cognitive therapy, the higher the chance they have of benefitting from it.

Cognitive Distortions: How to Address Them in Dementia Patients

Cognitive distortions, which are unhealthy thinking patterns that cause people to view reality inaccurately, can sometimes be observed in patients dealing with depression and anxiety. Dementia patients with cognitive distortions may have trouble responding to their treatment. Any cognitive distortion can lead someone to carry a bleak perspective toward their treatment and health.

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It is important for patients to remember that all cognitive distortions are either false or inaccurate and that they can cause psychological damage to someone. Sometimes, caretakers experience cognitive distortions as well. If their loved one’s treatment isn’t moving as successfully as they hoped, it can be tempting to make a negative prediction or adopt an all-or-nothing belief. Other common cognitive distortions include minimizing and blaming others. But by becoming mindful of these common cognitive distortions, you can address them and start to fix them.

Treatments for Dementia

There are a variety of treatments available for dementia. Cognitive therapy, medication, and occupational therapy are some of the most well-known treatments for the disorder.

  • Cognitive TherapyCognitive therapy is a type of psychotherapy designed to assist patients in linking their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors together.
  • Medication: Physicians may prescribe medication to their dementia patients to help ease their symptoms. Cholinesterase inhibitors and memantine are the most commonly prescribed medications.
  • Occupational Therapy: Occupational therapists can help patients work on remediating cognitive distortions, maintain a higher level of independence, and promote a healthy lifestyle.
  • Environmental Change: Dementia can affect the way in which patients interpret their surrounding environment. Creating a positive, soothing environment can help alleviate their anxiety, stress, and any troublesome cognitive distortions that often come from the disease.
  • Simplifying Routines: Caretakers can establish simple, consistent routines for patients. Because dementia can make it difficult for patients to learn new things, a regular routine can be a welcome treatment to ameliorate their cognitive distortions.

The mental health therapists and counselors at BetterHelp are available 24 hours a day online. Whether your loved one was recently diagnosed with dementia or you are learning how to cope with the sudden news yourself, our mental health professionals can assist both you and your loved ones. Contact the BetterHelp team today to learn more about how our online therapy services can help you.


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