Diagnosing Alzheimer's

Alzheimer's disease is diagnosed through a complete medical assessment. If you or a loved one have concerns about memory loss or other symptoms of Alzheimer's or a related dementia, it is important to be evaluated by a physician.

There is no single test that can show whether a person has Alzheimer's. While physicians can almost always determine if a person has dementia, it may be difficult to determine the exact cause. Diagnosing Alzheimer's requires careful medical evaluation, including:

A thorough medical history

Mental status testing

A physical and neurological exam

Tests (such as blood tests and brain imaging) to rule out other causes of dementia-like symptoms

People with memory loss or other possible warning signs of Alzheimer's may find it hard to recognize they have a problem and may resist following up on their symptoms. Signs of dementia may be more obvious to family members or friends.

Having trouble with memory does not mean you have Alzheimer's. Many health issues can cause problems with memory and thinking. When dementia-like symptoms are caused by treatable conditions — such as depression, drug interactions, thyroid problems, excess use of alcohol or certain vitamin deficiencies — they may be reversed.

Experts estimate a skilled physician can diagnose Alzheimer's with more than 90 percent accuracy. The first step in following up on symptoms is finding a doctor you feel comfortable with. Many people contact their regular primary care physician or internist about their concerns regarding memory loss. Primary care doctors often oversee the diagnostic process themselves.

Your primary care doctor may refer you to a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer's disease and related dementias.

Specialists include:

Neurologists, who specialize in diseases of the brain and nervous system

Psychiatrists, who specialize in disorders that affect mood or the way the mind works

Psychologists with special training in testing memory and other mental functions

Importance of Early Diagnosis

Although the onset of Alzheimer's disease cannot yet be stopped or reversed, an early diagnosis allows people with dementia and their families:

A better chance of benefiting from treatment More time to plan for the future

Lessened anxieties about unknown problems Increased chances of participating in clinical drug trials, helping advance research An opportunity to participate in decisions about care, transportation, living options, financial and legal matters Time to develop a relationship with doctors and care partners Benefit from care and support services, making it easier for them and their family to manage the disease

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