Evaluation of suspected dementia: 2-visit approach is effective

Prevalence of dementia will increase as the U.S. and the world population ages. The text below is based on a recent review in the journal Am Fam Physician:

Risk factors for dementia include:

- age
- family history of dementia
- apolipoprotein E4 genotype
- cardiovascular comorbidities
- chronic anticholinergic use
- lower educational level

A two-visit approach is time-effective for primary care physicians.

During the first visit, the physician should administer a screening test such as:

- verbal fluency test
- Mini-Cognitive Assessment Instrument
- Sweet 16

The tests above have relatively high sensitivity and specificity for detecting dementia, and can be completed in as little as 60 seconds (Note by editor: this one-minute time estimate sounds too optimistic, it usually takes considerably longer).

If the screening test result is abnormal or another disease is suspected, laboratory and imaging tests should be ordered, and the patient should return for additional cognitive testing.

A second visit should include:

- Mini-Mental State Examination
- Geriatric Depression Scale
- verbal fluency
- clock drawing tests

For patients with dementia, the following characteristics are useful for identifying
patients at increased risk for unsafe driving:

- Clinical Dementia Rating scale (Level A)
- caregiver’s rating of a patient’s driving ability as marginal or unsafe (Level B)
- history of crashes or traffic citations (Level C)
- reduced driving mileage or self-reported situational avoidance (Level C)
- Mini-Mental State Examination scores of 24 or less (Level C)
- aggressive or impulsive personality characteristics (Level C)

Evaluation of driving risk in dementia (click to enlarge the image).


Evaluation of suspected dementia. Simmons BB, Hartmann B, Dejoseph D. Am Fam Physician. 2011 Oct 15;84(8):895-902.

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