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Dementia: Testing How Well a Person Functions

Topic Overview

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

Sometimes the health professional may use a more formal functional status exam to evaluate a person's ability to perform daily activities. A functional status exam 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 checkbook, not being able to balance your checkbook now does not reflect a new problem with your ability to function. But a change or decline in the ability to do daily tasks may signal a problem. Functional status exams 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 point to the cause. Alzheimer's disease is only one of several possible causes of functional impairment.

Related Information

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Myron F. Weiner, MD - Psychiatry, Neurology
Last Revised October 29, 2012

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