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How To Get A Parent Evaluated For Dementia

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You know that forgetfulness and memory problems come with age, but the issue with your elderly parent lately seems to be something else entirely. They’re showing what seem to be early signs of dementia and you’d love to have an accurate diagnosis. How do you convince a parent to agree to an evaluation?

Here are some tips for persuading a parent or aging family members to get evaluated for dementia:

  • Talk to their primary care doctor and suggest this healthcare provider recommend it
  • Try an emotional appeal
  • Help them realize the problem

In this guide, we’ll talk in much more detail about what adult children should do if they suspect dementia in an elderly parent, whether they can test for dementia at home, and what’s to be expected on a medically-issued dementia test, so keep reading!

What Do You Do If You Think Your Parent Has Dementia?

Although you may not be a caretaker in an official capacity, you probably still help out your aging parent and it’s likely you see them all the time. You may have noticed more and more that when doing the things they once knew how to do perfectly, they’re now forgetting how to do or they’re making mistakes.

You’d be understandably worried that your parent might have dementia. 

This could be a valid concern. According to the World Health Organization or WHO, around the world, up to 55 million people have been given a dementia diagnosis. 

While the only way for family caregivers to be sure if their parent has dementia is through a medical evaluation (along with some mental evaluations), be on the lookout for the following dementia symptoms.

Confusion And/Or Finding It Hard To Remember

You must keep in mind that a senior’s memory is not as sharp as that of younger people. There is, however, a difference between needing a few seconds or a minute to recall something and simply not being able to recall it at all.

If the person’s memory loss is also accompanied by confusion, that could point towards dementia.

Missing Commitments And Appointments

Your dad was always a stickler about being on time, but he’s been late for his last three doctor’s appointments. Your mom would never want to disappoint her bingo buddies with her tardiness, yet she wanders in midway through the game.

If these behaviors are abnormal for your parents but lateness is happening more and more, that’s something to pay attention to.

Making Financial Mistakes

Dementia can be dangerous when it causes older adults to become less careful with their money. Whether they’re forgetting to pay bills, overspending on frivolous items, or a little bit of Column A and Column B, your parent can undo their financial stability very quickly.

My dad had very mild dementia towards the end of his life. He was finally convinced to let me handle all of his finances when he wrote a check to pay his credit card bill – and made the amount $2374.00 instead of $23.74.

It was likely just a simple mistake on his part, but it really shook him up when I found the error while going through his expenses in his checkbook. He was aware that he had begun struggling when paying bills, but had no idea he’d done this (thankfully he didn’t overdraw the account).

Not Sure What Day Or Month It Is

Okay, so we all have times where we have no idea what day or month it is, but usually, we’re at least semi-cognizant of it. A senior with dementia genuinely will not know if it’s March or October or Friday or Monday. 

Struggling To Learn Something New

Your parent might have recently picked up a new hobby or interest, but it’s not going so well. They’re having a difficult time trying to learn it. They could chalk it up to their age, and that very well could be the issue, but not always. 

Repeat Themselves A Lot

How often does your parent say the same thing or tell the same story over and over? They could be repeating themselves because they don’t remember what they’re saying. Dad did this a lot and it’s what made me suspect he had early dementia.

As we mentioned before, a medical evaluation is your confirmation as to whether your senior parent has dementia. If you suspect they may have the condition, then schedule an evaluation immediately. An early diagnosis of dementia can help them maintain a higher quality of life for longer.

How Do You Get Someone Evaluated For Dementia?

You likely can’t convince your senior parent to see a neurologist for a dementia evaluation without knowing what that evaluation entails. There is no single test for dementia, so to get an official diagnosis, there will be several lab tests and assessments given, including the following:

Physical Test

According to WebMD, several medical conditions can mimic dementia. Many are treatable conditions, so the first step should be a physical examination to discover if health problems could be the underlying cause is responsible for the red flags you are seeing.

Among these health conditions are Parkinson’s disease, urinary tract infections, thyroid disease, diabetes, Lyme disease, a Vitamin B-12 deficiency, and vestibular disorders (such as Meinere’s or vertigo).

Also, certain medications can cause dementia-like symptoms, especially in older people.

Blood Tests

A blood test can detect beta-amyloid levels. This protein comprises the amyloid plaques that patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia develop. If your senior parent has dementia, then their levels of beta-amyloid will be high. 

Genetic Test

Dementia can be genetic, and so to assess its cause, your senior’s doctor or neurologist may recommend a genetic test. Usually, though, dementia-related genetic testing is done when someone is younger to determine if they’re at risk for developing dementia later in life. 

Psychiatric Evaluation

During a psychiatric evaluation, the doctor will ask questions of your parent to gauge whether they could have a mental health condition such as depression. Their mental health condition could have caused their dementia or might be worsening it. 

Brain Scans

A dementia evaluation might require brain scans, especially if the doctor or neurologist senses that brain tumors, stroke, or other brain issues might have contributed to your parent’s cognitive issues.

Positron emission tomography or PET is a radiation test that can produce brain activity images. 

Magnetic resonance imaging, more commonly known as MRI, is another brain scan that dementia patients might receive. An MRI utilizes radio waves to determine nerve, bone, organ, and tissue health. 

Computed tomography or CT scans use X-ray technology to better understand the brain. 

Neurological And Cognitive Tests

Finally, a dementia evaluation could include a series of neurological and/or cognitive tests to gauge how well your parent can do math, comprehend language, complete problem solving tasks, and use their memory. 

What Questions Are Asked In A Dementia Test?

More than likely, the neurological and/or cognitive component of a senior’s dementia test will include the Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE) or perhaps the SLUMS test

These are quick tests that can be administered by a doctor, nurse, or neurologist. The MMSE test has 30 questions in all (the SLUMS test has 11) and should take about 10 minutes to complete if someone has normal cognitive function. 

We’ve discussed these type of evaluations in detail on the blog, so this section will act as a recap. Here are the questions that may appear on these tests.

  • What is today’s date?
  • What is the season?
  • What day of the week is today?
  • What town, county, and state are you in?
  • What is the name of this building?

In addition, the patient will be given a memory test. They’re asked to remember items or words in random order and then recite them back later in the test. 

They may also be requested to spell certain words backwards (only words that can be spelled the same forward and backward), recite certain words with perfect pronunciation, and replicate a drawing such as a clock (learn more about the clock test for dementia, which can be done at home).

If a patient scores 0 through 9 on the MMSE, then they likely have serious cognitive impairment. For scores between 10 and 20, then moderate cognitive impairment is likely.

Those who score 21 to 24 have mild cognitive impairment while those who score over 24 are likely fine.

However, cognitive impairment is not necessarily dementia. That is why the MMSE and tests like it cannot confirm the presence of dementia. The tests simply indicate that dementia could be likely. 

Is There A Home Test For Dementia? 

You’re having a hard time getting your senior parent to agree to go to the doctor or neurologist for an official dementia screening. You think you could persuade them to take a home test if such a thing exists.

Does it? 

Yes, and it’s known as the Self-Administered Gerocognitive Exam or SAGE. Like the SLUMS or MMSE, SAGE is not a perfect diagnostic tool. It’s not even technically a diagnostic tool. Instead, if your parent has thinking, memory, or cognitive impairments, the SAGE test might indicate that.

Here is a link to download the SAGE test.

The test should take only about 10 or 15 minutes to do, much as is the case with the MMSE. 

The questions aren’t all that different. Your senior will be asked to do math questions (how many nickels are in 70 cents?) and memory questions (write the names of 20 animals). The clock question from the MMSE might also appear on the SAGE test. 

After your parent takes the SAGE test, you should contact their doctor to discuss the results. From there, their doctor might recommend your senior parent see a neurologist or other specialist. 

Is There An Online Dementia Memory Test?

The results of your parent’s SAGE test have left you concerned, but you don’t want to involve any doctors yet until you’re more certain that your parent may have dementia. Can you download an online dementia memory test for them to take?

You can, and this test is through the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America or AFA. The test is free for anyone of any age to take.

The AFA test involves a series of images displayed on the computer screen. You have to either press the spacebar key or click the image when you see a duplicate. The test records your reaction time.

At the end of the test, you’re given a percentage of correct answers. 

That’s all the test is, so it’s rather simple, but it can be a talking point when you get your parent to see a doctor or neurologist.  

How Do I Convince My Parents To Get Tested For Dementia? 

Right now, in our scenario, the online tests are all you have to rely on, as your parent refuses to get screened for dementia. Per the intro, here’s what we recommend you try to get them to change their mind.

Talk To Their Doctor And Suggest They Recommend A Dementia Test 

As much as it hurts to admit, your parent might not listen to you. You know who they would be more likely to listen to? Their doctor.

If you can speak to their doctor outside of your parent’s knowledge and suggest that their doctor recommend a dementia test, your parent might agree. 

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where the idea comes from, so try not to take it personally. What’s much more important is that your parent gets a dementia evaluation. 

Try An Emotional Appeal

If you think it will work, you can always try appealing to your parent’s emotional side. Perhaps you don’t do this alone but involve your adult siblings, a close friend of your parent, or even your children and/or grandchildren. 

Once your loved one realizes how concerned everyone is, they might feel inclined to agree to a dementia test.  

Help Them Realize The Problem’s There

How many times has your mom or dad denied up, down, and sideways that they have dementia? If you can prove to them that the problem is there, they might feel concerned or spooked enough that they’ll want to be the ones to schedule their dementia evaluation.

How do you do that? The above free tests are a good way to start. If your parent won’t even do a free dementia test, then here’s what we recommend.

Take the questions from the test and then insert them into a conversation. You can pretend you’re struggling with your change, for example, and ask your parent how many nickels you can get out of 70 cents. 

Or perhaps you can say you have $20, and you spent $14.56, and ask them how much money you’d have leftover.

You can even make it into a game where you two have to think of 20 animals and see who can do it the fastest, or compete to see who can draw the most accurate clock. 

You wouldn’t really be competing, but just pretending. Your goal is to see if your parent can do these things. 

Conclusion

Getting a parent to agree to a dementia evaluation is anything but easy. They could be in denial about their own health and mental state even when memory issues have already made themselves apparent. 

We hope the information in this guide gets your parent to agree to some form of dementia test, even if it’s an at-home online test to start.

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