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New Guidelines for Dementia Diagnosis 

Experts at Alzheimer's meeting introduce best practices to help doctors improve detection and support 

A medical worker administers a test to an older man, in which he describes an illustration, as part of a University of Wisconsin-Madison study on dementia. The study found that for some people subtle changes in everyday speech.

Carrie Antlfinger/AP

En español | New recommendations to improve dementia detection and diagnosis were introduced Sunday by a panel of medical experts at the Alzheimer's Association’s international conference in Chicago.

With no overarching national guidelines for evaluating cognitive impairment currently available, clinicians have no "best practices" to follow. As a result, too many people experience troubling symptoms that either go unreported or are misdiagnosed, the panel said. It laid out broad recommendations for better screening and support, with details to be published later this year. While acknowledging that not everyone needs to be screened, the panel recommended: 

  1.  Individuals who are middle-aged or older and who experience troubling symptoms should be evaluated in a timely manner. If patients or their loved ones raise concerns, they should not be dismissed as “normal aging” without evaluation.
  2. Appropriate assessment: Evaluation should be timely and take into account family history and other risk factors, such as heart disease and head injuries. Clinicians can then use various diagnostic tools, such as pen-and-pencil memory tests or imaging tests to detect brain changes, in order to make a diagnosis. 
  3. Loved ones matter: Recent research shows that solo doctor visits are a risk factor for delayed dementia diagnosis. The recommendations emphasize that family members and other informants are essential to the evaluation process, since changes in an individual's mood, sleep and social relationships can become noticeable before problems with memory or thinking appear. If a diagnosis is made, clinicians also should involve loved ones in ongoing care planning and patient support.   

“The guidelines can empower patients, families and clinicians to expect that symptoms will be evaluated in a patient-centered, structured, and collaborative manner,” said panel leader Alireza Atri, a cognitive neurologist, in a news release from the conference. “In addition, they help to ensure that, regardless of the specific diagnosis, the results are communicated in a timely and compassionate way to help patients and families live the best lives possible.”