Dementia is a condition of the brain which represents a decline in function from one’s adult baseline. Most often this decline is gradual, although it can be abrupt, such as when occurring after a stroke. Memory loss is a prominent symptom in most forms of dementia. Other areas of function that may be impaired in dementia include executive function (ability to plan and execute a task), language, spatial abilities, judgment and mental focus. The cognitive deterioration that occurs represents a major source of morbidity and mortality. It further poses a significant burden on affected individuals and their caretakers. Objective measurements in the assessment of dementia are important in the diagnosis and ongoing proper management of patients with dementia. Cognitive testing is a means to assess the higher order functions of the brain to allow for determination of a dementia diagnosis. The testing involves a series of questions with an examiner. The test results are then compared with expected scores.
Cognitive testing can help in assessment of “normal” aging of the brain versus dementia. Mild memory lapses occur commonly as part of the aging process. These assessments serve as the basis for identifying treatment goals, developing a treatment plan, monitoring the effects of treatment, and modifying treatment as appropriate. Both neuropsychiatric (behavioral) and cognitive symptoms of dementia tend to evolve over time, so regular monitoring and testing aid in the detection of new symptoms and adaptation of treatment strategies to changing needs. Cognitive status can be followed with simple, structured cognitive testing.