Fall 2016 2

Getting a Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease

A physician should be consulted about concerns with memory, thinking skills and changes in behavior. Comprehensive evaluations are needed to establish a diagnosis, and a skilled physician can diagnose Alzheimer’s disease with 90 percent accuracy. Because there is no single test for Alzheimer’s, diagnosis usually involves a thorough medical evaluation that includes the following:

• Medical history, which collects information about current mental or physical conditions, prescription and nonprescription drug use, and family health history.

• Mental status evaluation to assess sense of time and place; ability to remember,
understand, and communicate; and ability to do simple math problems.

• A series of evaluations that test memory, reasoning, vision-motor coordination, and language skills.

• A physical examination, which includes the evaluation of the person’s nutritional status, blood pressure, and pulse.

• An examination that tests sensation, balance, and other functions of the nervous system.

• A brain scan to detect other causes of dementia such as stroke.

• Laboratory tests, such as blood and urine tests, to provide additional information about problems other than Alzheimer’s that may be causing dementia.

• A psychiatric evaluation, which provides an assessment of mood and other emotional factors that could cause dementia-like symptoms or may accompany Alzheimer’s disease.

• Interviews with a spouse, partner, or close family member or friend of the person suspected of dementia. The doctor may want to talk with someone close to the person suspected of dementia to gather additional information about symptoms. The person with the disease may not realize he/or she is exhibiting symptoms. These interviews will provide the physician further documentation that will help in a diagnosis.

Questions to ask about testing: 1-What tests will be performed? 2-What does each test involve? 3-How long will the tests take? 4-How long will it take to learn results?

A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s usually falls into one of the following categories:

• Diagnosis of probable Alzheimer’s indicates that the physician has ruled out all other disorders that may be causing dementia and has come to the conclusion that symptoms are most likely the result of Alzheimer’s disease.

• Diagnosis of possible Alzheimer’s means that Alzheimer’s disease is probably the primary cause of dementia but that another disorder may be affecting the progression of symptoms.

Questions to ask the doctor about a diagnosis: 1-What does the diagnosis mean? 2-Are additional tests needed to confirm the diagnosis? 3-What changes in behavior or mental capacity can be expected over time? 4-What care will be needed, and what treatment is available? 5-What else can be done to alleviate symptoms? 6-Are there clinical trials being conducted in my area?

Diagnostic evaluation of dementia may include history from the patient and relative or friend, clinical/physical examination, blood work (CBC, chem profile, thyroid function tests, syphilis serology, Vitamin B12, folate), brain scan, CT, or MRI, and sometimes psychological testing; HIV test; brain biopsy; SPECT or PET scan, history from the patient; lumbar puncture; EEG.

Source: Alzheimer’s Association

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