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Dementia Education Online

Module 2: Recognising Dementia



Despite increased public awareness of the impact of dementia on people's lives, it is not always easy to establish an early diagnosis of dementia. Early identification and correct diagnosis of dementia is important for several reasons, including:

  • Early diagnosis allows time for plans to be put in place for when the person with dementia is no longer able to manage their affairs, or speak for themselves (Alzheimer's Australia, 2007, [1]).
  • Correct diagnosis is essential to rule out other conditions, such as delirium and depression, which may have similar features to dementia (Alzheimer's Australia, 2005, [2]).

Also, being aware of the commonly experienced signs and symptoms of dementia can help health care workers to make appropriate decisions about when to refer a person for further investigation (Alzheimer's Australia, 2005, [3]). Further investigation may lead to a differential diagnosis which, in turn, can assist health care workers to tailor support and better understand the behaviours that are sometimes shown by a person with dementia (The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, 2005, [4]).


The aims of this learning module are to:

  • Present an overview of the screening and assessment processes required for dementia.
  • Provide an overview of dementia, delirium and depression.
  • Facilitate a beginning understanding of differential diagnosis in dementia.
  • Foster skills for providing appropriate support for a person with a cognitive impairment, and their family, when assessment and investigations are required.
  • Facilitate understanding of the importance of an inter-disciplinary approach to the screening and assessment of a person with a cognitive impairment.


By the end of this learning module, participants will be able to:

  • Distinguish between dementia, delirium and depression.
  • Recognise early signs and symptoms of dementia.
  • Identify memory, behaviour and personality changes that are triggers for concern about cognitive impairment.
  • Compare behavioural and functional changes associated with frontal, temporal and parietal lobe damage to the brain.
  • Explain common medical investigations used when a person is suspected of having dementia.
  • Outline commonly used scales for testing cognitive impairment.

Content Focus Areas

This learning module is built around four content focus areas:

  1. Dementia, delirium and depression
  2. Early signs and symptoms of dementia
  3. Memory, behaviour and personality changes in dementia
  4. Screening and assessment for dementia

This module is one of three undergraduate online learning modules that have been developed by the Eastern Australia Dementia Training and Study Centre (EADTSC) as part of its Dementia Education Online initiative. Each module is designed:

  • With an inter-disciplinary focus.
  • To be completed in approximately 3 hours.
  • As a web-based resource that is available to anyone.
  • As a stand alone learning module that can be incorporated into a broader undergraduate curriculum subject.

How to complete this Module

To complete this learning module work through the activities associated with the four content focus areas and complete the five learning activities.

References have been provided to enable you to complete the module, while the range of learning activities provided will facilitate your learning about these topic areas.

Resources and References

  1. Alzheimer's Australia 2007, Early Diagnosis of Dementia,
    http://www.alzheimers.org.au/common/files/NAT/20050700_Nat_HS_1.2DiagnosingDementia.pdf http://www.alzheimers.org.au/common/files/NAT/20100900_Nat_QDC_QDC7NTLTP.pdf

  2. Alzheimer's Australia 2005, Depression and Dementia,

  3. Alzheimer's Australia 2005, Tests Used in Diagnosing Dementia, http://www.alzheimers.org.au/understanding-dementia/tests-used-in-diagnosing-dementia.aspx

  4. The Royal College for General Practitioners 2005, Medical care of older persons in residential aged care facilities, http://www.gptvtc.com.au/site/content.cfm?page_id=138712&current_category_code=1698

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