Diagnosis and Management of Dementia: Review

Zoe Arvanitakis, Raj C Shah, David A Bennett
JAMA 2019 October 22, 322 (16): 1589-1599

Importance: Worldwide, 47 million people live with dementia and, by 2050, the number is expected to increase to 131 million.

Observations: Dementia is an acquired loss of cognition in multiple cognitive domains sufficiently severe to affect social or occupational function. In the United States, Alzheimer disease, one cause of dementia, affects 5.8 million people. Dementia is commonly associated with more than 1 neuropathology, usually Alzheimer disease with cerebrovascular pathology. Diagnosing dementia requires a history evaluating for cognitive decline and impairment in daily activities, with corroboration from a close friend or family member, in addition to a thorough mental status examination by a clinician to delineate impairments in memory, language, attention, visuospatial cognition such as spatial orientation, executive function, and mood. Brief cognitive impairment screening questionnaires can assist in initiating and organizing the cognitive assessment. However, if the assessment is inconclusive (eg, symptoms present, but normal examination findings), neuropsychological testing can help determine whether dementia is present. Physical examination may help identify the etiology of dementia. For example, focal neurologic abnormalities suggest stroke. Brain neuroimaging may demonstrate structural changes including, but not limited to, focal atrophy, infarcts, and tumor, that may not be identified on physical examination. Additional evaluation with cerebrospinal fluid assays or genetic testing may be considered in atypical dementia cases, such as age of onset younger than 65 years, rapid symptom onset, and/or impairment in multiple cognitive domains but not episodic memory. For treatment, patients may benefit from nonpharmacologic approaches, including cognitively engaging activities such as reading, physical exercise such as walking, and socialization such as family gatherings. Pharmacologic approaches can provide modest symptomatic relief. For Alzheimer disease, this includes an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor such as donepezil for mild to severe dementia, and memantine (used alone or as an add-on therapy) for moderate to severe dementia. Rivastigmine can be used to treat symptomatic Parkinson disease dementia.

Conclusions and Relevance: Alzheimer disease currently affects 5.8 million persons in the United States and is a common cause of dementia, which is usually accompanied by other neuropathology, often cerebrovascular disease such as brain infarcts. Causes of dementia can be diagnosed by medical history, cognitive and physical examination, laboratory testing, and brain imaging. Management should include both nonpharmacologic and pharmacologic approaches, although efficacy of available treatments remains limited.

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