How is Alzheimer’s Diagnosed? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

If you’ve noticed your memory hasn’t been sharp lately, you and others around you may be concerned. It can be daunting to pick up the phone and make that doctor’s appointment if you think you might have Alzheimer’s — and what can you expect once you’re there? Here’s everything you need to know about the process of making an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

man at doctor

How do doctors diagnose Alzheimer’s? | AlexRaths/iStock/Getty Images

It’s not as simple as a single test

Unfortunately, there is no test that comes back positive or negative for Alzheimer’s. Instead, your doctor might conduct a series of tests or examinations to rule out other diseases and check for dementia or Alzheimer’s symptoms. These can include physical or neurological tests, cognitive skills and memory tests, and sometimes brain imaging, which can check if there is another cause for the problems (besides Alzheimer’s).

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms

The first thing will be to discuss your symptoms. What brings you in with an Alzheimer’s concern? Your doctor may ask if you’ve been feeling forgetful or confused lately. Memory loss, issues problem solving, and confusion are some of the first signs of Alzheimer’s. But physical symptoms, such as vision problems or trouble walking, can also signal the disease. Your doctor will likely ask for a comprehensive explanation of your symptoms, since Alzheimer’s shares some symptoms with other brain problems.

You’ll likely have a physical or neurological test

Your doctor may ask you to get up and walk across the room. He or she is checking to see how well your physical skills work. Feeling off balance or uncoordinated can often accompany Alzheimer’s, so your doctor will likely check those two factors to see if there are any neurological issues, as well as your reflexes and muscle tone. Plus, vision and hearing problems can occur with the disease, so you may need your ears and eyes checked as well.

Your cognitive skills will be assessed

The biggest part of the doctor’s visit will be to check your cognitive skills. How is your memory? How are your problem-solving skills? These are things doctors will look for, since they can be major indicators of dementia. There are also tests you can download from the Internet and take as well, which will assess your cognitive abilities. One test from Ohio State University asks questions having to do with basic mental math, memory (such as, “What is today’s date?), photo recognition, and more. Your doctor will likely give you a similar test to determine your cognitive skill level.

The doctor might order brain imaging

In order to rule out the possibility of another problem such as a stroke or tumor, your doctor might order brain imaging. The imaging will search for any abnormalities in the brain that could be causing balance issues or cognitive impairment. An MRI is a common form of brain imaging, and it can also be used to tell if there is any shrinkage in the brain that could be due to Alzheimer’s. A CT scan might be used to rule out head injuries besides dementia.

Making a doctor’s appointment can be scary if you think you may have Alzheimer’s or dementia, but the earlier it’s caught, the better. Although there is no cure for the disease, medications can deter symptoms and prolong your health, but they’re best taken in the early stages.

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