Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and shows dementia-like conditions such as memory loss and cognitive skill disabilities. This disease is histologically characterized by accumulation of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles throughout the brain.
Alzheimer’s is not normal part of ageing, so if you or your closed one shows symptoms of the disease, you should ensure a proper diagnosis and screening of the disease for them to check any warning signs such as memory loss and difficulty in speech and decision making and behaviour changes.
The disease shows many signs and symptoms at early stage which may be same as of other disease conditions including such as anxiety, depression, results due to unhealthy diet, effects of medications etc. Therefore, doctors have to identify the symptoms carefully so as to identify whether those are due to Alzheimer’s or any other condition.
The test to diagnose Alzheimer’s accurately is not known till date. The judgement about the disease is based on signs and symptoms and information provided by the patient, and various other test reports by the doctors. Doctors can clarify and determine whether you have dementia due to Alzheimer’s or any other conditions.
Although, it is difficult to completely diagnose Alzheimer’s, in an estimated 90% cases, doctors and physician can correctly diagnose the condition based on various tests such as-
The diagnosis of Alzheimer’s requires a careful medical evaluation and test by skilled physicians.
If anyone is showing symptoms of dementia like memory loss and other cognitive skills dysfunction, consulting a doctor as soon as possible is necessary. This helps in the detection of the disease at an early stage and applying current medications and treatments which work well to control symptoms effectively at the early stages of the disease. Proper diagnosis and screening is done to check the symptoms whether it is AD AD or other disease conditions.
Once diagnosed with this disease, the next step is to find out treatment, support and care options for the patients.
As we know, Alzheimer’s or dementia is a progressive disease, it will progress over a period of time and the symptoms may get worse in a person. So, a proper diagnosis is needed to rule out other dementia conditions as necessary. The following possibilities can be confirmed or ruled out through diagnosis by the doctors before starting any treatment:
People feel reluctant to go to doctor when they or their family members have a memory problem. Some people also hide their symptoms. This happens because AD is associated with memory loss, loss of independency whether it is financial or personal, and people doubt about the benefits of the diagnosis and cure.
It’s true that this disease has no complete cure but diagnosis at an early stage and proper treatments may help a person to control many symptoms to some extent for a long period of time during the lifespan. Also, if a person has other disease conditions which are treatable, then it can possibly be cured and treated. Doctors also teach families and caregivers about strategies to enhance their living environment, plan activities and manage changes to minimize disease effects.
Above all, it helps you and your family to plan for future. You and your caregivers and your family get a chance to make decision on issues such as:
Accurate diagnosis of AD is important to enhance appropriate treatment options, family education, cares and plans for future. Early diagnosis and starting therapies and medicines help in controlling certain symptoms from getting worse on an average of 6-12 months in half of the people with this disease.
Doctors evaluate signs and symptoms and conduct several tests which assess memory impairments, thinking skill, judgement ability, and identify behaviourchanges to diagnose Alzheimer’s.
As it shows various signs and symptoms which one can also be seen in other brain abnormalities and disease conditions, one single test is usually not sufficient to determine and diagnose the disease completely. The following series of tests are done to identify a person with Alzheimer’s:
Memory loss alone doesn’t mean Alzheimer’s as many other health issues such as depression, drug interactions, thyroid problems, excess alcoholism, and vitamin deficiency may also cause dementia and these conditions may be reversed during the tests.
Getting Patient’s History
A doctor speaks to patients and their families, and friends to gain knowledge about patient’s emotional or mental condition, behavioural state as well as also to check development of symptoms and the family health history. Mostly, about 3 out of 4 cases of Alzheimer’s start with dementia (inability to remember recent events and memory lapse, learn and retain new information). Early-stage patients experience memory problems that interfere with daily living of the person, and it worsens consistently. These include symptoms such as loss of energy and spontaneity, difficulty in following instructions, managing money, abstract thinking etc. The physician helps distinguish the symptoms of AD from other types of dementia based on the problems and the speed of progression.
A physician may ask question and test the person about:
Assessment Process and Testing
The procedure is based on physical conditions of a patient and neuropsychological assessments.
Physical Examination and Lab Test:
Doctors will likely check our neurological health by testing:
Physical examinations are performed by physician to identify other causes of dementia and symptoms occurring in a patient. This examination include tests such as blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, sight and hearing evaluation, urine test and brain scans (help to identify any tumour causing dementia or if it’s an Alzheimer’s).
Blood Tests: These test help in measuring:
Thyroid Function: It depicts whether thyroid gland is capable of producing sufficient amount of thyroid hormone or not which may cause dementia.
Vitamin B12 deficiency: Deficiency of vitamins and poor diet may also cause dementia-related condition in older people.
Brain scan and imaging
These tests help to identify other causes of dementia-related conditions such as tumour growth, blood accumulation around brain surface, and stroke etc. Scans also show structural changes in our brain that may define the characteristic feature of Alzheimer’s such as shrinking of the brain. Doctors may check electrical signalling activity in the brain by Electroencephalogram and sometimes the spinal fluid may be tested using a lumbar puncture test.
Alzheimer’s is a disease which causes progressive loss of brain neurons or brain cells. This damage to the brain cells can be shown in a variety of ways through brain imaging and scans. Doctors do not take brain scans alone to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease because there is a similarity between age-related changes in the brain and due to other brain abnormalities.
Brain imaging and scans helps to:
Technologies Used in Brain Imaging
In this test, doctors ask some basic questions to patients to assess their mental status. Some of these basic questions which can be asked are such as:
The test helps to assess and identify mental symptoms associated with a brain abnormality and an injury which may cause dementia. Doctors usually suggest specific tests based on the symptoms and how adverse they are. Generally, a brief screening method is used such as Mini-Mental Status Examination (MMSE). This tool helps to confirm whether a patient is suffering from any intellectual problems or not.
Other Diagnosis and Assessment Methods
For further detailed tests and assessments, a physician may refer a patient to a specialist and memory clinic in order to assess him on various criteria. These specialists can be such as:
Diagnosis Methods of Future
Researchers in collaboration with doctors are working on developing advanced and new tools to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease accurately. Their major goal is to detect the disease earlier before symptoms appear and find a valid and inexpensive detection tool which can be used by the doctors in a clinic and an office.
New tools which are under investigation include –
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