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Early Warning Signs: When to Call the Doctor About Alzheimer's

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Addressing Alzheimer’s Disease Concerns with the Doctor

For a first appointment, you might start with your loved one’s primary care provider. Or you might go right to a specialist, like a psychiatrist or a neurologist. Over time, you may have a number of experts involved in your loved one’s care.

Unfortunately, there’s no definitive test for Alzheimer’s disease. So doctors use a number of different techniques to come up with a diagnosis. In addition to a typical physical exam and blood and urine tests, these could include:

  • Mental status tests. The doctor may ask a series of questions that assess a person’s mental function. They test a person’s short-term memory, ability to follow instructions, and problem-solving skills. Specific tests include the mini-mental state exam (MMSE) and the “mini-cog.”
  • Neurological exams. In checking for signs of Alzheimer’s, the doctor will also check your loved one’s neurological function, including speech, balance, coordination, and reflexes.
  • Imaging tests. CT scans, MRIs, and PET scans might be helpful in making a diagnosis. They may find physical signs of Alzheimer's in the brain and also rule out other causes for the symptoms -- like tumors or strokes.

Make sure to do your part. The doctor will need some basic information from you, so go in prepared with details about:

  • The Alzheimer’s symptoms you’ve noticed and when they began
  • Other health conditions your loved one has
  • The daily medications she uses, including supplements and alternative treatments
  • Your loved one’s diet and alcohol use
  • Any important changes in your loved one’s life -- like retirement, a recent move, or the death of a spouse

Because Alzheimer’s warning signs may be confused with normal changes that can come with old age, its diagnosis may not be clear-cut.

If you’re not satisfied with the doctor's assessment, get a second opinion. Alzheimer’s disease can go on a long time, and during those years you’ll need to work closely with a doctor. It’s key that you find a caring, sympathetic healthcare professional you trust.

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How long have you been taking care of someone with Alzheimer's?