Alzheimer's Disease Diagnosis Makes a Difference
Early diagnosis is important and accurate diagnosis is critical.
Early treatment is more effective than waiting. Plus early and accurate diagnosis allows for better planning and opportunity to include the person with dementia in the process. Planning makes a difference in options the person may have as the disease leads to changes in abilities and needs.
How is Alzheimer’s disease diagnosed?
Clinicians can now diagnose Alzheimer’s disease with up to 90 percent accuracy. But it can only be confirmed by an autopsy, during which pathologists look for the disease’s characteristic plaques and tangles in brain tissue.
Diagnosis is complicated and includes gathering lots of information, including the following:
- History of the changes
- Health history
- Medication review
- Physical exam (especially focusing on neurological and cardiovascular systems)
- Laboratory studies
- Imaging study of the brain (MRI, CT, PET)
- Cognitive assessment
- Emotional assessment
- Others (ECG, EEG etc. as indicated)
These tests may be repeated to give doctors information about how the person’s health and memory are changing over time. Sometimes these tests help doctors find other possible causes of the person’s symptoms. For example, thyroid problems, drug reactions, depression, brain tumors, and blood-vessel disease in the brain can cause Alzheimer’s-like symptoms. Some of these other conditions can be treated successfully.
Such tests also can help diagnose other causes of memory problems. These problems include mild cognitive impairment and vascular dementia. Mild cognitive impairment is a medical condition that causes people to have more memory problems than other people their age. Vascular dementia is a medical condition caused by small strokes or changes in the brain’s blood supply.