Diagnosing dementia

By: Allison Kropff Email
By: Allison Kropff Email

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - We may have just learned about Pat Summitt's dementia diagnosis, but it's been a disease she's been dealing with for a while.

So how do doctors come to that conclusion?

You couldn't tell on the court, but last season, Pat Summitt was dealing with what we now know to be early onset dementia. A couple of the symptoms: memory loss and confusion.

"Simple short term forgetfulness, inability to recall people's names, difficulty with organization, muti-tasking," says Dr. Monica Crane, a geriatrist with UT Medical Center.

Those issues lead Summitt's doctors to diagnose her with dementia.

"I feel fine. Once I knew what I was dealing with, the unknown is what's scary," says Summitt.

Testing for the disease includes MRI, CT and PET brain imaging.

"We can map out different regions of the brain and different processes that occur in the brain," says Crane.

But Crane says simpler tasks, like pen and paper testing, reveal a lot about the patient's brain function.

"Things like, draw the face of a clock, with the hands at 10 minutes after 11. That sounds like simple task, but for someone who has difficulty processing executive function, that can be very difficult."

Because family history plays a role and under diagnosis is a problem, Dr. Crane says early testing is key when it comes to treatment.

"The best case scenario, we'll tell you that you're doing just fine, or maybe we'll advise you to change some of your current habits to make them more prone to good brain health habits."

She says Summitt's announcement sheds light on this disease, and let's people know that there is help available.

"My hope is that it allows others to come out of the cracks and maybe admit that they're having some problems and get evaluated."

"Now, knowing what I know, I'm going to do everything I can to keep my mind sharp," says Summitt.

Dr. Crane says a lot of the disease is education, which is why early diagnosis is so important.

While there are no therapies that will change the course of the disease, there is medicine and non drug therapy.


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