Alzheimer Disease (cont.)
IN THIS ARTICLE
Exams and Tests
Primary health care providers are able to diagnose and treat Alzheimer's disease. Some health care providers specialize in the problems of older people (gerontologists) or of the brain (neurologists and psychiatrists). If you or a relative have symptoms that suggest Alzheimer's disease, you may want to consult a specialist.
When the health care provider hears that an elderly person is having one or more cognitive problems, he or she will probably suspect Alzheimer's disease. However, many other conditions can cause dementia or dementia-like symptoms in an elderly person, including both medical and psychological problems. Many of these conditions can be reversed, or at least stopped or slowed. Therefore, it is extremely important that the person with symptoms be checked thoroughly to rule out treatable conditions.
The only way to confirm the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease is to look at the brain directly and to identify senile plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. This is possible only at autopsy, after a person's death. The diagnosis in a living person is usually made on the basis of symptoms and ruling out other conditions. This is done by a combination of medical interview, physical and mental examinations, lab tests, imaging studies, and other tests.
The medical interview involves detailed questions about the symptoms and how they have changed over time. Your health care provider will also ask about medical problems now and in the past, family medical problems, medications, work and travel history, habits, and lifestyle.
A detailed physical examination is done to rule out medical problems that might cause dementia. The examination should include a mental status evaluation. This involves answering the examiner's questions and following simple directions. In some cases, the health care provider will refer the person for neuropsychological testing.
Neuropsychological testing is the most accurate method of pinpointing and documenting a person's cognitive problems and strengths.
These include blood tests to rule out infections, blood disorders, chemical abnormalities, hormonal disorders, and liver or kidney problems that could cause dementia symptoms.
Brain scans cannot detect Alzheimer's disease. A scan usually is necessary to rule out other conditions such as brain tumors and stroke that can also cause dementia.
Any of these tests may be ordered as part of the workup of dementia.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/1/2014
Rodrigo O Kuljis, MD
Nestor Galvez-Jimenez, MD
Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD
Helmi L Lutsep, MD
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