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Medical History and Physical Exam for Dementia


Medical history

To diagnose dementia , the doctor will ask questions during a medical history to assess a person's past and current overall health. He or she also will ask whether there is a family history of dementia or other illnesses. The person being treated and often a close relative or partner will be asked about:

  • Current illnesses the person may have and medicines the person takes. In some cases, illnesses or medicines can cause confusion or other signs of dementia.
  • Past history of illness or injury, such as cardiovascular disease, head injury, or mental illness such as depression.
  • Alcohol use.
  • Change in a person's moods, hallucinations, or unusual behavior (such as excessive lack of inhibition).
  • Recent problems with forgetfulness.

The doctor also will ask about a change in the person's ability to perform daily tasks. The person or relative may be asked whether the person can:

  • Bathe and dress himself or herself and use the toilet.
  • Cook meals.
  • Manage money.
  • Perform daily household tasks.
  • Take medicines on schedule.
  • Drive safely and get around in usually familiar areas.

The process may be complicated if the person is not able to remember important parts of his or her medical history. Also, a person who has dementia may not be aware of memory loss, and sometimes family members are unable to spot changes in a loved one's memory or overall mental status.

Physical exam

The doctor will do a complete physical exam to look for conditions that could cause dementia. He or she also will assess risk factors for dementia, such as alcohol use and heart disease.

The person will also have a complete neurological exam to look for signs of stroke , such as trouble speaking, hearing, or moving.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Peter J. Whitehouse, MD - Neurology
Last Revised June 23, 2011

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