Dementia: Testing How Well a Person Functions

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Dementia: Testing How Well a Person Functions

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A health professional may evaluate the day-to-day functioning of a person with Alzheimer's disease by asking questions and observing the person. This often is done informally during the medical history and physical examination.

Sometimes the health professional may use a more formal functional status examination to evaluate a person's ability to perform daily activities. A functional status examination may also measure current ability to do various activities, such as paying bills, preparing meals, or keeping track of appointments, compared to how well they were performed previously. The test usually is completed by someone in close contact with the person, such as a family member or caregiver.

Not being able to do certain everyday tasks on your own is not always a sign of a problem. For example, if you have never been able to balance your chequebook, not being able to balance your chequebook now does not reflect a new problem with your ability to function. A change or decline in the ability to do daily tasks may signal a problem, however. Functional status examinations are designed to look for evidence of this change or decline.

The results of these tests may suggest that the person has become less able to function independently, but they usually do not indicate the cause. Alzheimer's disease is only one of several possible causes of functional impairment.

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By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Andrew Swan, MD, CCFP, FCFP - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Peter J. Whitehouse, MD - Neurology
Last Revised January 11, 2011

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