Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your doctor will make a diagnosis of Alzheimer's after a thorough clinical evaluation and a series of tests. Other tests may include those which will increase or decrease the likelihood that you have Alzheimer’s disease. Your doctor will also perform tests to eliminate the possibility of other conditions causing the dementia.
These tests help determine if you have signs of dementia, how severe the dementia is, or to look for other causes of dementia. They may include:
Neurological exam—Examines the nervous system for evidence of other neurological disorders. This may include mental status testing of:
- Sense of time and place
- Problem-solving abilities
- Attention span
- Language skills
- Visual-spatial perception
- Learning capacity
- Decision making skills
- Psychological evaluation—Looks for depression or other emotional illnesses that may be the first sign of Alzheimer’s disease.
- CT scan
—Take detailed pictures of your brain to identify any abnormalities
- PET scan
and SPECT scans
- Lumbar puncture
—Tests the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord to look for infections that can cause dementia, or show markers of Alzheimer's, such as beta amyloid and tau proteins.
is a test that evaluates and follows the electrical activity of the brain. It is not a common test for evaluating most dementias, but it may be done.
Blood and urine tests may be ordered to look for other conditions that cause dementia. The tests may include:
- Thyroid function tests
- Complete blood count (CBC)
- Levels of vitamins (including B vitamins)
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)
- Lyme disease
- Vasculitis work up
Genetic tests can look for markers that increase your risk for early-onset Alzheimer’s. Your doctor may recommend this test if you have family members with this condition.
An Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis usually falls into one of three categories:
- Probable Alzheimer’s disease—This indicates that other dementia-related disorders have likely been ruled out. The symptoms are most likely due to Alzheimer’s disease. At least two areas of cognition are affected. One area is a worsening of memory.
- Possible Alzheimer’s disease—The dementia is possibly caused by Alzheimer’s disease. There may be other disorders that are causing of the dementia.
- Definite Alzheimer’s disease—This diagnosis can only be made at the time of death. It is done through an autopsy when the brain tissue can be examined. This is the only way to diagnose the disease with complete certainty.
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What is Alzheimer's?
Alzheimer’s Association website. Available at:
http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_what_is_alzheimers.asp. Accessed September 5, 2013.
Last reviewed September 2013 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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