Do you have a friend or relative who's having a lot more "senior moments" than they used to? Your doctor has ways to diagnose what's really going on. She can perform neurological exams, mental status tests, mood assessments, and, in cases where the patient has unusually heavy responsibilities that make it especially important to get a firm diagnosis, brain imaging scans that distinguish between healthy neurons and diseased neurons:
In patients who are showing signs of dementia, brains scans will show a buildup of amyloid plaque that destroys the tau proteins that keep the brain's messaging system running smoothly. The result is disintegrating microtubules and tangled nerve cells.
Don't worry: insurance will cover the cost of these tests if you work for a large employer like the federal government. So keep an eye out for the warning signs: isolation from friends,1 irritability and unpredictable fits of temper,2 poor judgment,3 difficulty speaking plainly,4 trouble understanding visual images like maps,5 difficulty planning things,6 and memory lapses.7