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Alzheimer's disease diagnosis

Alzheimer's disease can be hard to diagnose in the early stages as it can be mistaken for the normal signs of ageing.

A visit to the GP is the first step towards an Alzheimer's disease diagnosis. They'll want to know about symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, such as forgetfulness, speech problems, behaviour changes and problems with some everyday activities.

What tests are used to diagnose Alzheimer's disease?

There is no single test to confirm a person has Alzheimer's disease. A variety of tests may be arranged not to confirm Alzheimer's, but to rule out other medical conditions with similar symptoms.

These include a vitamin deficiency, thyroid problems, infections, anxiety, depression or a brain tumour.

Patient history

A medical history from the patient helps the doctor assess a person's past and current health situation. It also helps the doctor evaluate whether there are any medical problems, develop a plan of treatment, and monitor the patient's health over time.

During this evaluation, the doctor asks the patient a series of questions.

A thorough patient history includes:

  • Patient's identifying information.
  • Information about the main problem, including any difficulties in daily living.
  • Information about other symptoms.
  • History of any current illness.
  • Past medical history.
  • Medications being taken.
  • Current health status.
  • Psychosocial history - such as marital status, living conditions, employment, sexual history, important life events.
  • Mental state - this is a series of questions that the doctor will ask to determine if the person is experiencing any evidence of mental health illness, like depression.
  • Family history (including any illnesses that seem to run in the family).

Brain scans

If Alzheimer's disease is suspected, a GP may refer the person to a specialist or for further tests, these may include CT scans or MRI scans of the brain to look for significant changes to the brain.

Specialist assessment

If a person thought to have Alzheimer's disease is referred to a specialist, they may see a mental health professional such as a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist. They may also see a neurologist who specialises in conditions affecting the brain and nervous system.

Part of the diagnosis may involve the use of a screening questionnaire.

If a diagnosis is confirmed over the course of the various appointments, doctors will usually recommend that family or carers are told about it so they can help with future care and treatment.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on August 24, 2015

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