Early Detection and Diagnosis
There is no single test for Alzheimer’s disease. A health care provider may perform a physical exam and testing on a patient to rule out conditions that have similar symptoms to those of Alzheimer’s disease-- such as infections, vitamin and thyroid problems, depression and side effects of medications. A brain scan may be performed to rule out conditions such as stroke, brain tumor or excessive fluid in the brain.
A health care provider may also talk to the patient and, if needed, someone who knows the patient well, about the patient’s medical history, lifestyle and how symptoms are affecting everyday life. The health care provider may ask the patient to do some tests of mental abilities. If needed, the health care provider may refer the person to a psychiatrist (a doctor who treats mental health problems) or a neurologist (a doctor who treats problems with the brain and nervous system) for more detailed examination or testing.
When you notice changes in yourself, a family member or a friend particularly related to memory loss (Review the ten (10) warning signs and symptoms here) it is important to take action and consider speaking with your health care provider. The Alzheimer’s Association’s, “10 Steps to Approach Memory Concerns” provides a guide to assist individuals assess and approach cognitive concern including when to see their health care provider.
While there is no cure at this time for Alzheimer’s disease, action can be taken to improve the health and well-being of those with the disease. Early detection and diagnosis of Alzheimer's provides a number of important benefits including: access to medical treatment and support services, education on the progression of the disease, opportunities to plan ahead to make legal and financial decisions, to express your wishes about end-of-life decisions including completion of an advance directive, to identify your care preferences through the development of a medical care plan, and management of co-morbidities. Learn more about the importance of early detection and diagnosis here.
There is no single diagnostic test that can determine if a person has Alzheimer’s disease. Your primary health care provider often with the assistance of specialists such as neurologists, neuropsychologists, geriatricians and geriatric psychiatrists will likely take multiple steps (Medical history, physical exam and diagnostic tests, neurological exam, mental status tests, and brain imaging) in order to evaluate your memory and thinking. The evaluation may be divided into several visits, allowing time to gather information to accurately determine the cause of your concerns and rule out other possibilities. Understanding the type and purpose of the tests your doctor(s) may order and knowing what to expect during an evaluation can be empowering and help to ease anxiety. Learn more here.
Receiving an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis can be overwhelming and naturally cause a significant amount of uncertainty for both the individual and their family members. For this reason, it is important to ask questions to help develop a better understanding of how the disease is likely to affect you and your family members. You will want to become familiar with the disease and its progression. To prepare for your visit with your healthcare provider, you might consider clicking here to review some questions to ask your healthcare provider.
Family history is not necessary for an individual to develop Alzheimer’s. However, researchers believe that genetics may play a role in developing Alzheimer’s disease. Research shows that those who have a parent or sibling with Alzheimer's are more likely to develop the disease than those who do not have a first-degree relative with Alzheimer’s. Those who have more than one first-degree relative with Alzheimer’s are at an even higher risk. When diseases like Alzheimer's and other dementias tend to run in families, either genetics (hereditary factors), environmental factors — or both — may play a role. Learn more here.