Making The Diagnosis Of Alzheimer

Unfortunately there is no single definitive test for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease. The doctors making the diagnosis’s are compelled to use the history of symptoms presented by the patient, or the patient’s family along with results of neurological examinations and any results obtained from diagnostic testing to rule out other conditions. When the diagnosis is finally made, the determination will be most likely that Alzheimer’s disease is the “probably” cause of the symptoms because other dementia conditions can and do cause similar signs and symptoms as one would present with regarding a diagnosis for Alzheimer’s. There are some obvious and sometimes subtle differences though in Alzheimer’s and other dementia conditions. Other dementia often times will not progress and may even improve with treatment. Alzheimer’s does not improve and it always progresses in a decline in both cognitive and behavioral condition.

The tests to rule out other conditions and point to Alzheimer’s include taking a mental status test, and also neuropsychological assessments. These tests can help to determine how the cognitive and memory functions are being affected and to what intensity the patient’s cognitive abilities have been affected. Attention span, learning ability, recall, language and visuospatial abilities will be tested. Test results will be compared to patients of similar age and educational background.

A series of interviews of the patient and those who are familiar with the patient will also be conducted with the purpose of determining how well the patient is able to function with daily tasks and to ascertain the emotional state of the individual. Personality and behavioral changes will also be noted.

A medical history will be taken to determine if there has been any history of alcohol or drug abuse, early childhood head trauma or other events that may contribute to memory loss.

Next, psychiatric assessments will be conducted to determine if depression or other mental illnesses are present.

Blood and urine tests may be ordered to rule out infections or other physical conditions that may contribute to the symptoms such as anemia, thyroid involvement, kidney or liver disease, vitamin deficiency or other factors that may have an impact on memory problems.

Scans such as a computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and positive emission tomography (PET) may be ordered to help detect the presence of strokes, tumors or other brain conditions which may mimic the same symptoms as Alzheimer’s. These brain scans can also show changes in the brain structures that are associated with memory loss.

In the course of ruling out other conditions tests such as an electroencephalogram (EEG), electromyogram (EMG) or cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) done by a spinal tap might also be done.

Ruling out other mental conditions or physical illnesses are an important part of coming up with the diagnosis of probable Alzheimer’s disease especially in the early stage of the disease. When the patient presents for a diagnosis and is already in the moderate stage of the disease the diagnosis is easier to make because of the progressive nature of the disease.

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