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