What is the Diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease?

By  , Expert Content
Feb 23, 2012

Alzheimer's disease (AD) is diagnosed after other conditions that can cause dementia are excluded. Your doctor will try to find out treatable causes of your symptoms before attributing decline in your mental abilities (dementia) to AD.


Diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease

  • History and a physical exam: Diagnosis of AD is made on medical history and a physical exam. During the physical exam the healthcare professional tries to find out if a physical problem may be causing your symptoms. Many of these problems can be treated such as hearing or vision problems that can cause confusion, social withdrawal, or a change in behaviour. Similarly delirium and depression are two possible causes of symptoms of confusion and memory loss and both can be successfully treated.
  • Mental health assessment: Your doctor will do a functional status exam and a mental health assessment. These tests check your ability to perform simple and sequential tasks and orientation of time (day, month) and space (place where you are). The doctor usually questions the family member present during the exam, regarding the patient’s day-to-day functioning, memory, and changes in personality.
  • Imaging studies: Imaging studies such as computed tomography scan (CT scans) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of the brain may be done to make sure that some other problem is not responsible for your symptoms. Some other tests which may be done include examination of your spinal fluid, electroencephalogram (EEG), positron emission tomography (PET) or single photon emission tomography (SPECT) scans.
  • Lab tests: Lab tests to rule out possible treatable causes such as liver disease, abnormal thyroid levels, or nutritional problems, such as folate or vitamin B12 deficiencies may be done. Your doctor will suggest tests such as complete blood count, liver function tests (AST, ALT, alkaline phosphatase, bilirubin), folate (folic acid) test, vitamin B12 concentration, electrolyte and blood glucose levels, thyroid function tests and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection test. These tests will be done based on your signs and symptoms, progression of disease (slow or rapid) and several other factors. Treatment for these conditions may slow or reverse mental decline.

Tests for early detection of AD: Currently there are no tests that can be done to screen for Alzheimer's disease or detect AD in early stages. However, this does not mean that symptoms of mental decline (dementia) in early stages should be ignored. Consult your doctor if you are concerned about symptoms of memory loss or other symptoms of dementia in yourself or your family member. AD cannot be cured but many other diseases that can cause symptoms of memory loss and mental decline are treatable.


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