Understanding Alzheimer's Disease: Diagnosis & Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Christopher Melinosky, MD on April 06, 2023
3 min read

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:

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

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

They 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 or tumors that might cause the symptoms.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) is a scan that uses tracers such as flortaucipir (Tauvid) to show the plaques that build up in brains affected by Alzheimer’s. But Medicare and other insurance carriers usually don’t cover PET scans.
  • Precivity AD test is a blood test that looks at the amounts of proteins such as beta amyloid and Apo E in blood. The presence or absence helps determine the probability of whether an imaging study (like a PET scan) can detect plaques in the brain and lead to an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.   

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.

  • Aducanumab-avwa (Aduhelm) andlecanemab-irmb (Leqembi). These therapies are human monoclonal antibodies that target the fundamental pathophysiology of the disease by reducing amyloid beta plaques in the brain. they are for use in those with early stages of Alzheimer’s and with confirmed presence of amyloid pathology. It may cause swelling or bleeding in the brain.
  • Donepezil (Aricept), galantamine(Razadyne, formerly known as Reminyl), and rivastigmine (Exelon). 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.
  • Memantine-Donepezil (Namzaric). This drug is a combination of donepezil and memantine. It’s meant for those with moderate to severe Alzheimer's.

Doctors prescribe a number of drugs to relieve specific Alzheimer’s symptoms: