Diagnosing Alzheimers Disease

Alzheimer's,Healthy Aging,Healthy Living
December 13, 2011

A look at how experts typically diagnose Alzheimer's disease.

Trouble remembering something here and there doesn't mean you have dementia or Alzheimer's disease. Some memory loss can be attributed to temporary and treatable circumstances, such as thyroid issues, medication, alcohol use or even vitamin deficiencies. But although there might be other causes for your symptoms, you should see your doctor if you have any reason to suspect you might have Alzheimer's disease. The key to any health related issue is early detection.

Find a great doctor. If you aren't already in the care of a trusted physician, network. Ask a friend, request a referral from your primary care doctor or request a referral from a local hospital. A doctor-patient partnership is key to managing your health at all times. In fact, the Alzheimer's Association states that a good doctor can correctly diagnose Alzheimer's with a 90 percent accuracy rate.

Who can diagnose Alzheimer's disease? Your primary care doctor is a good place to start when seeking a diagnosis for any type of dementia. Often, the primary care physician will be an overseer in the process, guiding you through the necessary steps and helping you understand what's required. Specialists in the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer's include neurologists, psychiatrists and psychologists.

Alzheimer's diagnosis process.

  • Medical history. The doctor will review your medical history. It's important to know the amount and types of medications you are currently taking. Your doctor will also ask all about your family health history.
  • The physical exam. This will help your doctor find out more about your current state of health. The doctor will need to know about your lifestyle and habits, nutrition, alcohol use, blood pressure, temperature and pulse rate. He or she will listen to your heart and lungs. You may be sent to a lab for some tests, though some doctor's offer lab services in their offices. In either case, blood and urine samples will be taken and tested at the lab.
  • Expect questions. Your doctor will ask you questions about your health and how you're feeling. Typical questions include: What kind of symptoms do you have? How often and when do you notice these symptoms? Have you noticed symptoms lessening or getting worse?
  • The neurological exam. This is the part of the exam that will focus on problems that reflect a brain disorder that may rule out Alzheimer's disease. Strokes, Parkinson's, fluid on the brain, tumors and other disorders can mimic some of the symptoms of Parkinson's. Expect a reflex test, muscle coordination test, and strength and tone testing. The doctor will check your eye movement, speech and nerve sensations. You may even have a brain image taken, such as an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), PET (positron emission tomography) or CT (computerized tomography) scan.
  • Mental status. This testing evaluates memory, ability to solve problems and general thinking skills. The doctor's looking to see if you're aware, know the current date, and can remember small lists or follow a set of instructions. Your mental status as well as mood will be assessed at this time as well.
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