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Evaluation of cognitive impairment and dementia

Eric B Larson, MD, MPH
Section Editors
Steven T DeKosky, MD, FAAN, FACP, FANA
Kenneth E Schmader, MD
Deputy Editor
April F Eichler, MD, MPH


Dementia is a disorder that is characterized by a decline in cognition involving one or more cognitive domains (learning and memory, language, executive function, complex attention, perceptual-motor, social cognition) [1]. The deficits must represent a decline from previous level of function and be severe enough to interfere with daily function and independence. This characterization of dementia reflects a 2013 revision of earlier definitions, which is discussed in more detail below.

Alzheimer disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia in the elderly, accounting for 60 to 80 percent of cases. As the population ages, the overall burden of dementia is increasing worldwide. In the United States in 2012, an estimated 5.2 million individuals over 65 years of age had AD, a number that is expected to reach 6.7 million by 2025 [2,3]. Clinicians will need to accurately diagnose and manage the early cognitive manifestations of AD and other dementias, particularly as new pharmacological agents are developed.

This topic will discuss the evaluation of cognitive impairment and dementia. An approach to diagnosis and evaluation of early-onset dementia (ie, adults younger than 65 years of age) is presented separately. (See "Early-onset dementia in adults".)

The clinical, diagnostic, and pathologic aspects of specific dementia syndromes and the treatment, risk factors, and prevention of dementia are also discussed separately. (See "Treatment of dementia" and "Risk factors for cognitive decline and dementia" and "Prevention of dementia".)


Although a number of definitions exist for dementia, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) definition provides a reasonable framework for the concept of dementia in clinical practice. According to DSM-5, released in 2013, the criteria for dementia (now called major neurocognitive disorder) include the following [1]:

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Sep 20, 2017.
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