Home  |   Subscribe  |   Resources  |   Reprints  |   Writers' Guidelines

April 27, 2009

Coding for Dementia
For The Record
Vol. 21 No. 9 P. 29

Dementia is a progressive impairment of brain function so severe that it affects a person’s ability to function at his or her usual level. Dementia is different than delirium, which is a short-term change in mental status because of a new or worsening illness.

The following are the major stages of dementia:

• mild cognitive impairment (memory problems);

• mild dementia (impaired memory and thinking skills);

• moderate dementia (severe memory impairment and difficulty communicating);

• severe dementia (significant problems with communication and frequent incontinence); and

• profound dementia (bedridden).

The following are some causes of irreversible dementia:

• Alzheimer’s disease (331.0 + 294.1x) — the most common cause of dementia.

• Multi-infarct dementia (290.4x + 437.0) — caused by strokes that stop blood flow to parts of the brain. The fifth-digit subclassification with code 290.4 identifies the presence of delirium, delusional features, or depressive features. This type of dementia may also be documented as vascular dementia.

• Parkinson’s disease with dementia (331.82 + 294.1x) — a movement disorder with bradykinesia, rigidity, and tremors.

• Dementia with Lewy bodies (331.82 + 294.1x) — causes protein deposits (Lewy bodies) in neurons. A unique symptom for this condition is visual hallucinations.

• Frontotemporal dementia (331.19 + 294.1x) — main symptom is changes in personality or behavior. 

• Pick’s disease (331.11 + 294.1x).

• Huntington’s disease (333.4 + 294.1x) — a rare, inherited disease.

• Leukoencephalopathies (323.9 + 294.1x) — affect the deeper, or white matter, brain tissue.

• Binswanger’s disease (290.12) — a type of vascular dementia.

• Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (046.19 + 294.1x) — infectious protein particles called prions destroy brain tissue.

• Multiple sclerosis (340 + 294.1x).

• HIV disease (042 + 294.1x).

• Neurosyphilis (094.x + 294.1x).

Code 294.1 requires a fifth-digit subclassification to identify whether the dementia involved behavioral disturbances such as a patient exhibiting aggression, being combative or violent, or wandering off.

Dementia not further specified is assigned to ICD-9-CM code 294.8. Drug-induced dementia is classified to code 292.82 plus the E code to show the circumstances and the specific drug involved.

Dementia can also be caused by some treatable conditions, such as hypothyroidism, vitamin or folic acid deficiency, heavy metal poisoning, some brain tumors, normal pressure hydrocephalus, chronic alcoholism, and some infections. When the underlying cause is treated, it is possible to reverse the effects of dementia.

The earliest and most noticeable symptom of dementia is progressive memory loss. Other symptoms people may experience include impaired recognition; an inability to concentrate; difficulty finding words; difficulty with understanding words spoken to them; a decrease in problem-solving skills and judgment capability; difficulty planning and carrying out tasks; changes in mood, personality, and behavior; depression, anxiety, and agitation; severe confusion; altered sleep patterns; and motor system impairment.
A physician may be able to diagnose dementia based on a patient’s medical history of symptoms and a neurological exam. However, an autopsy is the only way to confirm the diagnosis and the type of dementia.

If the dementia cannot be reversed, the goal of treatment is to control the symptoms. The physician may prescribe one or more of the following medications:

• Cholinesterase inhibitors, which can improve mental function in early Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in Lewy bodies, including donepezil (Aricept), rivastigmine (Exelon), and galantamine (Razadyne, formerly Reminyl).

• Antidepressants, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors such as fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft), citalopram (Celexa), and escitalopram oxalate (Lexapro).

• Antipsychotics such as risperidone (Risperdal) and olanzapine (Zyprexa) to treat anxiety, agitation, aggression, and sleep problems.

Coding and sequencing for dementia are dependent on the physician documentation in the medical record and application of the Official Coding Guidelines for inpatient care. Also, use specific AHA Coding Clinic for ICD-9-CM and American Medical Association CPT Assistant references to ensure complete and accurate coding.

— This information was prepared by Audrey Howard, RHIA, of 3M Consulting Services. 3M Consulting Services is a business of 3M Health Information Systems, a supplier of coding and classification systems to more than 4,000 healthcare providers. The company and its representatives do not assume any responsibility for reimbursement decisions or claims denials made by providers or payers as the result of the misuse of this coding information. More information about 3M Health Information Systems is available at www.3mhis.com or by calling 800-367-2447.