Alzheimer's disease affects over 6 million Americans, according to the Alzheimer's Association. Alzheimer's causes severe memory loss which gradually gets worse over time. Even though there isn't a cure, patients (mostly senior citizens) who are diagnosed with Alzheimer's can be treated for the symptoms with a combination of drug and non-drug options.
There is no single diagnostic test that can detect Alzheimer's disease, so patients must go through a series of tests and evaluations before a diagnosis can be made. Doctors must rule out several conditions and refer the patient to a psychologist for a second evaluation before a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease is made.
Below is are 5 steps used to diagnose Alzheimer's disease today.
#1. Medical History & Family History. This allows a doctor to learn about any family history of Alzheimer's and other diseases. The doctor will also learn about any prescription drugs a patient is taking, and may request a urine or blood test. The Alzheimer's Association reports that some symptoms that mimic dementia can be reduced when the person stops taking certain drugs, consuming alcohol, or is able to manage depression in a healthy way.
#2. Physical Exams. Doctors must review a person's current state of health by conducting a complete physical examination that includes a test of vital signs, and a thorough evaluation of many parts of the body including the bones and muscles, head, eyes and ears. This helps to rule out any preexisting conditions that may need to be treated.
The Mayo Clinic reported that seniors often have medical problems such as lung disease, high blood pressure and heart disease that can complicate the diagnosis.
#3. Mental Status Evaluation. This part is done by an experienced psychologist - the evaluation is designed to help determine what level of sensory abilities and mental abilities the individual still has. The patient may be asked to perform linguistic and intelligence tests, and to perform simple calculations.
#4. X-Rays & Lab Tests. Blood or urine tests may be taken again at this step of the Alzheimer's diagnosis process to check for nutritional deficiencies, gauge the level of thyroid hormones, and check blood counts. At this stage of testing, a doctor may also want to run a MRI scan, a CAT scan and X-rays to rule out the instance of blood clots or tumors which can cause impairment or forgetfulness. Another test that measures brain activity and function is an EEG test.
#5. Ongoing Psych Evaluations. If the tests so far show no indications of Alzheimer's, a doctor may still request a psychological evaluation every couple months to check for signs and symptoms. If some of the test results do point to Alzheimer's, the patient may be provided with a treatment plan to manage the symptoms and improve their quality of life. Only an autopsy of the brain can reveal whether the patient was actually effected with Alzheimer's disease.