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Making the Diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease

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Mini-Mental State Exam

A mini-mental state exam is a very brief test that the doctor can use to test a person's problem-solving skills, attention span, counting skills and memory. It will give the doctor insight into whether there has been damage to different areas of the brain.

Physical Exam

The physical exam is part of the patient care process. The exam enables the doctor to assess the overall physical condition of the patient. If the patient has a medical complaint, the physical exam provides the doctor with more information about the problem, which helps him determine an appropriate plan of treatment. The physical exam includes an examination of the following:

  • Vital signs (temperature, blood pressure, pulse)
  • Height and weight
  • Skin
  • Head, eyes, ears, nose
  • Throat/neck
  • Chest, including lungs and heart
  • Breasts
  • Abdomen
  • Bones and muscles
  • Neurological evaluation
  • Rectal/genital area

Chest X-ray

An X-ray is a test in which an image of the body is created by using low doses of radiation. X-rays can be used to diagnose a wide range of conditions, from bronchitis to broken bones. When viewing X-ray images of the chest, doctors can the view the structures inside the chest, including the heart, lungs, and bones. This test may be used by the doctor to help rule out other disorders that may be causing symptoms similar to those of Alzheimer's disease.

Laboratory Tests

When a doctor is diagnosing an illness, he or she often orders laboratory tests on certain fluids and tissue samples from the body. These tests can help identify problems and diseases.

There are hundreds of lab tests available to help doctors make a diagnosis. The most common are blood tests and urinalysis. Blood tests involve a series of tests routinely done on blood to look for abnormalities associated with various diseases and disorders.

Blood tests may also be used to look for the presence of a specific gene that has been identified as a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease.

A urinalysis is a test in which a urine sample is evaluated to detect abnormalities, such as abnormal levels of sugar or protein. This test may be used by the doctor to help rule out other disorders that may be causing symptoms similar to those of Alzheimer's disease.

In some cases, obtaining and testing a small amount of spinal fluid may be helpful.

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