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Dementia: Testing How Well a Person Functions - Topic Overview

A health professional may evaluate the day-to-day functioning of a person who has Alzheimer's disease by asking questions and observing the person. This often is done informally during the medical history and physical exam.

Sometimes the health professional may use a more formal functional status exam to evaluate a person's ability to perform daily activities. A functional status exam may also measure current ability to do various activities, such as paying bills, preparing meals, or keeping track of appointments, compared to how well they were performed previously. The test usually is completed by someone in close contact with the person, such as a family member or caregiver.

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Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosis

Unfortunately, getting an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis is not simple. Your doctor can’t check for the disease by doing a quick blood test. That’s because signs of Alzheimer’s disease don't appear in your blood. Instead, Alzheimer’s disease is the result of a problem inside your brain. The only way to be 100% certain a person suffers from Alzheimer’s disease is to examine samples of brain tissue. This can only be done during an autopsy, after a person has died.

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Not being able to do certain everyday tasks on your own is not always a sign of a problem. For example, if you have never been able to balance your checkbook, not being able to balance your checkbook now does not reflect a new problem with your ability to function. But a change or decline in the ability to do daily tasks may signal a problem. Functional status exams are designed to look for evidence of this change or decline.

The results of these tests may suggest that the person has become less able to function independently, but they usually do not point to the cause. Alzheimer's disease is only one of several possible causes of functional impairment.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: October 29, 2012
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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