An accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease is crucial to ensure appropriate treatment, care, family education and opportunity for future planning.
Usually it is family that first notice that something is wrong. They may notice that their loved one is having memory loss that disrupts daily life, confusion, trouble solving problems or social withdrawal or mood and personality changes. When these warning signs occur, the first step is to take the individual to their primary care physician for evaluation. The physician will administer some tests in the
office or refer the person to a specialist at a memory care clinic.
First the physician will want to rule out other causes for the behavior changes. The physician may administer a Mini Mental Status Exam or MMSE. This test offers a quick and simple way to measure cognitive or mental functioning and screen for cognitive loss. It tests the individual's orientation, attention, calculation, recall, language and motor skills. The physician may order additional tests and evaluations based on the results of the MMSE.
Blood work and imaging studies, such as MRIs and CT scans are used to rule
out other causes for the persons behavior changes. Similar symptoms can
be caused by diseases or conditions such as thyroid problems, depression, B-12 deficiency, stroke, brain tumors or urinary tract infections A family member, close friend or caregiver may be asked to fill out a questionnaire that will help the doctor evaluate the person's ability to perform activities of daily living. These tasks include preparing meals, taking medications, managing finances, getting dressed
and bathing. Family members may be asked to explain how cognitive skills, functional abilities and behaviors have changed over time.
Several types of specialists may be involved in the diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease. A neurologist is a doctor that specializes in disease of the brain and
nervous system. A psychiatrist specializes in disorders that affect mood or the way the mind works. Psychologist specialize in memory and other mental functioning and a geriatrician specializes in the care of the older adult.
Early diagnosis is important, it provides the person the opportunity to actively plan for the future and gain access to information and other resources and support that may be available to them. The benefits from Alzheimer's edications are maximized when started early in the disease. Current medication therapy cannot cure Alzheimer's, but it can help slow the progression and assist with managing symptoms. With early diagnosis, the person may be eligible to participate in clinical trials.
Please do not self diagnose Alzheimer's disease. There are many treatable conditions that present with similar signs and symptoms. Only a comprehensive evaluation performed by a health care provider or team of health care providers can provide an accurate diagnosis.
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