Alzheimer's disease is diagnosed after other
conditions are ruled out. If you are suffering from a decline in mental
abilities (dementia), your doctor will try to find out if
another treatable condition may be causing those symptoms.
It is very important to rule out
delirium as a possible cause of symptoms, especially
if the symptoms came on suddenly rather than gradually. Delirium may require
emergency medical attention.
Symptoms of confusion and memory loss
can sometimes be caused by
depression. Depression is very common among older
adults, but it is sometimes difficult to recognize. It may be successfully
managed with medicine and counseling.
Alzheimer's disease is diagnosed with a
medical history and a physical exam. A physical exam
is used to help find out if a physical problem may be causing a person's
dementia symptoms. It may be possible to correct some of these problems. For
example, sometimes a simple hearing or vision problem can cause confusion,
social withdrawal, or a change in behavior, such as hostility or
unresponsiveness. The person may have an undiagnosed illness or infection that
is causing the symptoms.
It is possible that the main title of the report Alzheimer's Disease is not the name you expected. Please check the synonyms listing to find the alternate name(s) and disorder subdivision(s) covered by this report.
Also, the doctor will do a functional status exam and a
mental health assessment. During these exams, the
person will be asked to perform simple tasks that check orientation. It usually
is helpful to have a family member or someone in close contact with the person
present at the appointment. A family member may be able to provide the best
information about how a person's day-to-day functioning, memory, and
personality have changed.
Brain imaging tests such as
CT scans and
magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may also be done to
make sure another problem is not causing the symptoms. Your doctor may also test for certain proteins in your spinal fluid to rule out other causes. Positron emission
tomography (PET) or single photon emission tomography (SPECT), two other
imaging tests, are not routinely done but may be useful in some
A small number of people with dementia
have a condition that proper treatment can reverse (unlike Alzheimer's
disease). Lab tests may be done to rule out other possible causes of a person's
symptoms, such as levels of certain minerals or chemicals in the blood that are
too high or too low, liver disease, abnormal thyroid levels, or nutritional
problems, such as folate or vitamin B12 deficiencies. Treatment for these
conditions may slow or reverse mental decline.
Blood tests often
done to check for these conditions include:
Thyroid function tests. Abnormal thyroid hormone
levels are a common cause of forgetfulness, confusion, lethargy, and other
symptoms of dementia in older people. Medicine can easily improve symptoms if a
thyroid problem is present.