How Is Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosed?
If problems with memory and thinking have you worried about Alzheimer’s disease, it’s time to see your doctor. Don’t delay—early diagnosis means a better chance to benefit from treatment.
To find out whether you have Alzheimer’s disease, your primary care doctor may evaluate you, or he or she may refer you to a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis of the condition. There is no one test for Alzheimer’s disease. Instead, your doctor may conduct a thorough exam, perform additional tests to check your brain and mental function, or perhaps even speak with a family member or friend about your symptoms. Here’s an overview of what might happen at your doctor visit.
Many health conditions can cause problems with memory and thinking, including diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and stroke. So to make sure there isn’t something else causing your symptoms, your doctor may conduct a general exam and a neurological exam. He or she may:
• Listen to your heart and lungs
• Measure your blood pressure, temperature, and pulse
• Take blood or urine samples
• Test your reflexes, eye movement, speech, sense of touch, and muscle strength
You should also be prepared to answer questions about your current condition and health history, including:
• Do you have any health problems now?
• What illnesses have you had in the past?
• What health problems have family members had? Has anyone in your family had Alzheimer’s disease?
• What are your symptoms?
• When did your symptoms start?
• How often do your symptoms occur?
• Have your symptoms gotten worse?
• How is your mood?
• What medicines do you take, including over-the-counter drugs and dietary supplements? (It may be helpful to bring a list with you.)
• Do you drink alcohol?
• How is your diet?
Mental Function Tests
Your doctor may give you a mental function test to assess your memory and ability to solve simple problems. Two commonly used tests are the Mini-Mental State Exam and the Mini-Cog. In the Mini–Mental State Exam, you will be asked a series of questions geared toward your everyday mental skills. In the Mini-Cog, you will be asked to remember and repeat the names of three common objects and to draw a clock face with a specific time showing. The results of these tests can help determine whether more testing is needed.
Finally, people who are evaluated for Alzheimer’s disease often have magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans of their brains. Your doctor may recommend these scans to check for other brain problems that could be causing your symptoms, such as stroke or a tumor.
“About Alzheimer’s disease: diagnosis.” National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health, www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/topics/diagnosis.
“Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.” Alzheimer’s Association, www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_diagnosis.asp.
“Tests for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.” Alzheimer’s Association, www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_steps_to_diagnosis.asp.