December 01, 2020

Detecting Alzheimer's disease

A complex diagnosis

Your memory just isn't what it used to be — admittedly, it's far from it. But is it simply a part of getting older or a sign of something more?

When you start to notice changes in your mental ability or your memory noticeably declines, it's best to have it evaluated. A diagnosis of dementia — which includes Alzheimer's disease — can't be made in a single step. Multiple tests are needed to identify the cause and severity of cognitive changes. But doing so gives you a better picture of what to expect and what can be done for care.

Common tests and evaluations

During a basic dementia evaluation, a doctor will interview the person with possible dementia — and someone who knows the person well — about symptoms. The doctor will also take a medical history, conduct a physical exam that includes certain cognitive tests and run basic lab tests. In addition, an important task is to identify or rule out other, treatable causes of memory loss such as vitamin B-12 deficiency, drug side effects, depression or many other potential causes. Additional tests and assessments may be used to determine what cognitive changes may be occurring and how much these changes are affecting day-to-day life.

An imaging test of the brain also is likely. Structural imaging shows the size, shape and location of the different brain structures and is used most often to help determine the cause of dementia. The imaging tests doctors use for an overall assessment of dementia are magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)...