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Alzheimer's Disease Health Center

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Understanding Alzheimer's Disease: Diagnosis & Treatment

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How Do I Know I Have Alzheimer’s Disease?

If you think you or a loved one has signs of Alzheimer’s, see a doctor so you can know for sure. The symptoms of the disease can look a lot like those of many other conditions, including:

  • Infections
  • Taking medications that don’t work well together
  • Small strokes
  • Depression
  • Low blood sugar
  • Thyroid problems
  • Brain tumors
  • Parkinson’s disease

The doctor will test you or your loved one to see if you really have Alzheimer’s. She’ll start with a physical exam and tests of your mental status, including:

Understanding Alzheimer's Disease

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Diagnosis and Treatment



  • Memory
  • Verbal skills
  • Problem solving
  • Thinking skills
  • Mood

She might also ask other family members about any signs they’ve noticed.

Doctors can use imaging tests of the brain to decide if someone has Alzheimer’s or another problem.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses powerful magnets and radio waves to make pictures of the brain. The scan can show if someone has had strokes, tumors, or blood clots that might cause the symptoms.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) is a scan that shows the plaques that build up in brains affected by Alzheimer’s. But Medicare and other insurance carriers usually don’t cover PET scans.

What’s the Treatment for Alzheimer's Disease?

There’s no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. But there are medicines that seem to slow down its progress, especially in the early stages. Others can help with mood changes and other behavior problems.

  • Tacrine (Cognex). This was the first drug approved by the FDA for treatment of Alzheimer's disease. It worked by slowing the breakdown of a brain chemical, called acetylcholine, that helps nerve cells in the brain send messages to each other. Because this drug caused liver damage, it was taken off the market in 2012.
  • Donepezil (Aricept), galantamine (Razadyne, formerly known as Reminyl), and rivastigmine (Exelon). These medications work in the same way as Cognex but don’t have the same bad side effects. They may improve how well the brain works in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and delay how fast symptoms get worse.
  • Memantine (Namenda). This drug keeps brain cells from using too much of a brain chemical called glutamate, which Alzheimer’s-damaged cells make too much of. The drug seems to protect against nerve damage and has fewer side effects than other drugs. It may keep moderate to severe symptoms from getting worse quickly. People who have moderate to severe Alzheimer's disease may take this drug along with donepezil, galantamine, or rivastigmine.
  • Namzaric. This drug is a combination of donepezil and memantine. It’s meant for those with moderate to severe Alzheimer's.
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