Diagnosis

Although the thought of being diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease may be daunting, if you suspect yourself or another may have Alzheimer's Disease it is important to consult a doctor as soon as possible.

Why get diagnosed?

Being diagnosed can: 

  • Rule out other diseases with similar symptoms, which might be treatable.
  • Provide you with information and support you need to deal with the disease.
  • Provide you with an opportunity to treat some of the symptoms.
  • Prepare family and friends, and organise affairs.

What is the process of diagnosis?

If you are concerned you or another may have Alzheimer's Disease the first step is to consult your GP. At present there is no one test that can confirm the presence of Alzheimer's Disease 100%, however your doctor will conduct a physical and a neurological examination to try and identify the cause of your concern. 

  • Physical Examination:

The doctor will take a medical history, including previous medical conditions and the family history. Blood pressure, urine and blood will also be tested.

  • Neurological Examination:

The doctor will carry out some mental ability tests to investigate memory and cognitive processes. This will involve testing reflexes, coordination, eye movements, speech and sensation.

After the examination the GP may either request more tests by a specialist, or discard the prediction.

Seeing a specialist

Two PET scans of the brain showing the difference amounts of Pittsburgh Compound found in a cognitively healthy person and a person with Alzheimer's Disease (the yellow and red indicate high levels of Pittsburgh Compound). Image courtesy of http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:PET_AD.jpg

If after examination the GP is concerned, you may be referred to a specialist. The specialist referred to could include a neurologist, psychiatrist or an old age psychiatrist (this list is not exhaustive).

The specialist will usually conduct further tests. These include more physical examinations and memory tests. However, a CT, MRI, SPECT, or PET scan will also normally be performed to see if there are any unusual aggregations in the brain. 

After further examination a diagnosis will be given as either possible (not all other alternatives have been ruled out) or probable (all other alternatives have been ruled out). At the moment a definite diagnosis cannot be given until after death, when the brain tissue is studied.