How is Alzheimer's Diagnosed?

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How is Alzheimer's Diagnosed?
As a caregiver, you often need to trust your instincts about how a senior loved one is really doing. These feelings are especially important when it comes to recognizing the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

 

While there is currently no cure for the disease, there are an increasing number of options that might help treat some of the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

It’s also important to be evaluated early because memory problems that seem to indicate Alzheimer’s may actually be caused by depression, medications, thyroid problems, vitamin deficiencies, excess alcohol use, and even infections. If that’s the case, these conditions can be addressed.

Alzheimer’s disease begins slowly. Typically with memory loss about newly learned information. Later, mood fluctuations and behavior changes occur. Intense confusion can prevent even simple daily tasks from being done. Walking and even swallowing may become difficult or impossible.

It’s often witnessing a senior’s increasing problems with memory that prompts a caregiver to take action.

Methods to Diagnose Alzheimer’s

There is no single test that can be used to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease. The diagnosis is determined by assessing the senior’s symptoms and eliminating other health conditions:

  • Medical history. If you suspect a problem with a loved one, start keeping notes with dates when specific memory challenges have occurred or when they first began. This can eliminate the possibility of understating or overstating problems. Their doctor will ask about past and current medical issues, medications, diet, alcohol consumption and medical conditions of family members.
  • Physical and cognitive examination. During the physical exam, the physician will check blood pressure, temperature, pulse, and heart rate. He or she will also evaluate the patient’s memory and problem-solving skills. These tests will typically include questions and activities to assess reasoning, judgment, attention, language, simple math abilities and problem-solving skills.
  • Blood tests. To rule out thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies, blood tests will be done. A blood test can also determine if an infection is present and if the liver and kidneys are properly functioning.
  • Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis. Sometimes a spinal tap may be required to analyze the proteins in the fluid that is present in the spine or brain.
  • Assess risk for depression. To learn if depression is the cause of the memory loss, the physician may conduct a depression screening or refer your senior loved one to a mental health professional for an evaluation.
  • Brain imaging. Scans of the brain can show if the brain is shrinking while also determining if the memory loss is caused by a brain tumor, aneurysm, bleeding, nerve injury, stroke, or fluid built up in the brain.

Based on their findings, the primary care physician may refer your loved one to a neurologist or another colleague who specializes in memory loss.

Memory Care at Five Star Senior Living in Indiana

At Five Star Senior Living communities, we can provide resources to help you start the conversation with a family member about Alzheimer’s. And our team members are always happy to answer questions about senior living or memory care. Call us at your convenience to learn more.