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How is Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosed?

How is Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosed?

Would you be surprised to discover that Alzheimer’s can only be definitely diagnosed after death when an autopsy reveals certain characteristics in the brain tissue?

When doctors think Alzheimer’s is present in an older adult they must first eliminate other possible illnesses. They will investigate if vascular dementia or memory loss is caused by alcoholism, depression, prescription drug side effects, an infection or thyroid issues. Each of these problems can usually be treated.
An early diagnosis allows an Alzheimer’s sufferer and their family to begin planning for the future.

Benefits of Early Alzheimer’s Diagnosis and Treatment

Early diagnosis and treatment may help preserve the cognitive functions and quality-of-life of someone with Alzheimer’s. While the disease cannot be stopped or reversed, treatment can sometimes help the person continue with normal day-to-day functions longer.

Preparing for a Doctor’s Visit

An Alzheimer’s diagnosis begins with the doctor confirming memory loss and dementia. To do so, the doctor will conduct memory tests and assess the person’s problem-solving, counting, and language skills, as well as the attention span.

The doctor may also speak to loved ones about the person’s overall health, their ability to carry out activities of daily living (ADL), and changes in behavior and personality. Sometimes a person with Alzheimer’s fails to recognize the changes, even though they are obvious to their loved ones.

To prepare for the doctor’s visit, write down when you first noticed signs of memory loss and other behavioral changes, how often it happens, and the reaction of your loved one when it does.

Also, bring your loved one’s complete medical history, along with a list of prescription and non-prescription drugs they take and a list of any vitamins, supplements, or herbal remedies they use. 

Diagnostic Tests for Alzheimer’s

The doctor may prescribe a battery of tests to either identify or rule out other causes of dementia or memory loss.  This may include: 

  • Blood and urine analysis
  • Computed tomography (CT)
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
  • Positron emission tomography (PET)

How Accurate Are Diagnostic Tests for Alzheimer’s Disease?

Don’t hesitate to get a second opinion on an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, especially if the doctor who made the diagnosis is not a specialist in memory care and dementia.

Often, the primary care doctor will provide a referral to another professional, such as a neurologist, a neuropsychologist, or a geriatric psychiatrist. But if he doesn’t provide a referral, ask for one. Experts skilled in recognizing the signs of Alzheimer’s are correct in their diagnosis about 90 percent of the time, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

Additionally, new research and developments make Alzheimer’s testing even more comprehensive and accurate, which may someday lead to better treatment.

In the future, routine diagnostic tests for older adults may be able to detect Alzheimer’s even before any symptoms appear. For now, it’s important to get help when you first begin noticing any changes in the memory, mood or behavior of your aging loved one.

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