How is Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosed?
The doctors use various methods to determine whether the symptoms of cognitive problems are due to Alzheimer’s or any other disease. They usually make a diagnosis after a thorough examination and ruling out other causes of the symptoms. To diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, doctors may:
- Speak with the patient and a family member or friend about the patient’s overall health, diet, past medical problems, ability to carry out daily activities, and changes in behavior and personality
- Run tests on memory, problem-solving, attention, counting, and language skills
- Carry out a psychiatric evaluation to find out whether the mental health condition is causing or contributing to the symptoms
- Conduct standard medical examinations, such as tests of blood, urine, or spinal fluid to determine other possible causes of the symptoms
- Perform brain scans, such as computed tomography (CT) scan, positron emission tomography (PET), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test to confirm Alzheimer’s diagnosis or to eliminate other likely causes of the symptoms
Doctors may repeat these tests to evaluate the memory and cognitive changes in the person over time. Other than that, these tests can also help identify other possible causes of memory issues, including tumors, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, or any other form of dementia.
Some ailments or conditions may also exhibit symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s. For instance, thyroid problems, drug reactions, depression, brain tumors, and blood-vessel disease in the brain can cause AD-like symptoms. Some of these conditions may be reversible or curable. People with memory problems should consult a doctor every six to twelve months.
What Next If the Doctor Thinks It’s Alzheimer’s Disease?
After detailed examination, if the doctors determine the cause of the symptoms to be Alzheimer’s, they usually refer the patient to a specialist for an in-depth diagnosis. These specialists include:
- Neurologists – Specialists who can conduct and review brain scans to identify the abnormalities of the central nervous system and brain
- Neuropsychologists – Who can carry out memory and thinking tests
- Geriatricians – The primary care doctors who specialize in treating older adults and know about the changes that come with age
- Geriatric Psychiatrists – Who can evaluate memory and thinking problems in older adults.
CONTEMPORARY SCIENTIFIC ADVANCES FOR DIAGNOSING ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
Before the early 2000s, the only way to precisely diagnose Alzheimer’s disease was an autopsy performed after the patient had died. Technological advancement in research and in the field of medicine now allows researchers and doctors to diagnose the disease in a living person.
Lab tests and brain imaging techniques can help scientists identify the biological signs or biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease. For instance, blood tests can measure the level of beta-amyloid protein in the patient. Beta-amyloid formation and accumulation is an essential hallmark of AD. Similarly, a PET scan can detect the abnormal formation of tau protein, another hallmark of AD. Genetic testing is also available for detecting AD-related genes in a person.
Although these tests are helpful in Alzheimer’s detection, they are exorbitant in cost and often have limited availability. Researchers are still trying to discover several biomarkers (such as disease-related proteins) and diagnostic tests for the precise and efficient diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. The main focus of the ongoing research in this field is to develop quicker, more cost-effective, and less invasive ways for diagnosing Alzheimer’s.
Why is early diagnosis important?
Early diagnosis is beneficial for several reasons. Having an early diagnosis and starting treatment in the early stages of AD can help preserve function for months or even years, though you cannot change the underlying AD process.
Currently, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s. However, several FDA-approved medications are available that can help slow disease progression or relieve the symptoms for some time. These drugs are generally most effective in the early or middle stages of the disease.
An early diagnosis also helps patients and their families:
- Plan for the future
- Make living arrangements
- Take care of financial and legal matters
- Develop support networks
- Learn about living arrangements
In conclusion, an early diagnosis can provide a better opportunity for people with Alzheimer’s disease to get involved in clinical trials. Clinical trials are research studies wherein scientists determine the safety, side effects, or effectiveness of a medication or of another forms of intervention.