There are many causes of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is just one of the most common. Some forms of dementia can be reversed. Unfortunately, despite recent medical advances, Alzheimer’s cannot. That’s why it’s crucial to pinpoint the exact cause of the symptoms.
Expect your doctor to spend a great deal of time gathering the patient’s complete medical history, doing a thorough examination, and ordering several tests to make sure Alzheimer’s disease is the correct diagnosis.
The first thing the physician will need to do is pinpoint when the onset of behavioral and cognitive changes occurred. This is done by interviewing the spouse, caregivers, family members, and friends. He or she will want a precise list of any prescription or over-the-counter medications the patient is currently taking. Also expect the doctor to thoroughly explore any history of stroke, alcoholism, head trauma, diabetes, thyroid disease, or seizure.
The doctor will also want information about the patient’s education level, work history, and the medical history of all close family members.
The doctor must first rule out any other diseases with symptoms that mimic Alzheimer’s disease, such as Parkinson’s disease, stroke, brain hemorrhage, and tumors. He or she will perform a battery of standardized tests to evaluate language skills, perception, orientation, motor skills, and memory.
Several tests are typically done before the final diagnosis is given. Blood work can rule out other causes like thyroid disease, B12 deficiencies, and syphilis. A Computed Tomography (CT) scan of the brain takes about 10 minutes and allows doctors to see slices of the brain so stroke, tumors, and other uncommon causes of dementia can be ruled out. More detailed brain images can be gained from Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). This takes slightly longer but provides more detailed images.
Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s disease is often slow to progress, and getting a correct diagnosis isn’t a speedy process either. But proper treatment can often slow the progression of the disease and reduce the severity of the symptoms.