American Lifetime

How is Alzheimer's Diagnosed?

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive illness in which brain cells waste away (degenerate) and die. Alzheimer's is the most common basis of dementia — a gradual yet continuous decline in cognitive, behavioral, and social skills that significantly affects an individual’s quality of life and ability to function independently.

Alzheimer’s disease can be identified in its early stages, and this is especially important since the best treatments and medication are available in the early stages. Early diagnosis also allows the individual and family members to plan for their loved one’s future. 

Here are some ways caregivers can keep a lookout for the tell-tale signs of a loved one that is  developing Alzheimer's. 

Early Warning Signs 

Identifying the early signs and symptoms is the first step towards a proper diagnosis. These include:

  • Progressive loss of memory, especially short-term memory
  • Reduced cognitive abilities, such as reasoning, problem-solving, making sound judgments, etc
  • Loss of sense of time and orientation
  • Altered mood and personality, such as irritability, depression, and hostility
  • Loss of interest in daily activities
  • Aphasia (difficulty in using and understanding language)
  • Agnosia (decline inability to process sensory information and perception)
  • Apraxia (inability to do basic motor tasks, such as walking, eating, and dressing)
  • Catastrophic reactions (strong emotional responses to minor difficulties) that usually increase in the later afternoon or evening.
  • Psychosis – both auditory and visual delusions and hallucinations

Diagnosing Alzheimer’s 

If you sense any of these symptoms in a loved one, it's essential to take timely action and get a proper diagnosis. 

Here are some points to guide you about what to do and what to expect. 

What to Expect When Visiting a Physician

  • A comprehensive evaluation by a specialist is critical to eliminate any other health issues that might be causing cognitive problems 
  • The physician may perform an evaluation and recommend seeing a neurologist, geriatrician, or other specialists
  • If a confirmed diagnosis is established, make sure the physician is experienced in providing ongoing care. Try choosing a physician who is knowledgeable about handling cognitive illnesses and can communicate effectively with family members.
  • Your local Alzheimer’s Association or hospital can also help identify a suitable specialist.
  • Complete Medical History

    To make a definitive and sound diagnosis, the physician will ask for the following:

    • Details about changes in cognitive abilities, mood, and personality, behavior, when these changes started, and how they are influencing the quality of life
    • Details about physical symptoms, such as vision and coordination problems
    • Details of any recent illnesses, such as heart or liver disease, kidney disease, thyroid problems, etc.
    • List of medications the loved one is currently taking.
    • Medical history of the family and relatives with similar illnesses

    Physical Examination

    • Checking for abnormalities in the lungs and other organs
    • Testing vision and hearing
    • Checking muscle strength, reflexes, sense, and coordination. This will help rule out similar diseases such as Parkinson's. 
    • Testing mental status by giving exercises involving counting, writing, reading, memorizing words, etc.

    Blood Tests

  • Complete blood count (CBC) and blood chemistry tests will be ordered to detect anemia, infections, diabetes, and kidney or liver disorders. 
  • Routine tests for thyroid, vitamin B12 deficiency, and elevated blood calcium levels will also be performed. 

  • Brain Scans

  • A computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) will be added to reveal the brain's anatomical structure and rule out other related problems such as tumors or stroke.
    • These scans will also show the loss of brain mass linked to Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. 
    • An electroencephalogram (EEG) might also be ordered to detect abnormal brain-wave activity.

    Lumbar Puncture

    • This procedure helps identify specific biochemical markers for Alzheimer's. Such as amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, and neurodegeneration.

    Neuropsychological Testing

    • This can include interviews and paper-pencil exercises administered by psychologists or neuropsychologists.
    • These tests help assess memory, writing, reasoning skills, vision-motor coordination, and comprehension. 
    • Psychologists can also assess mood disorders and depression.

    Functional Assessment

  • This can help determine the disease stage, which can be extremely helpful for family members and caregivers in deciding the type of care and support required.
  • A therapist will ask family members to fill out a questionnaire about the loved one’s ability to execute daily activities. By noting whether the activities are completed, partially, or not at all, it can help the therapist suggest ways of providing help, hence preserving the loved one's independence as much as possible.
  • Genetic Testing 

    • Genetic testing will only be performed in cases of early-onset Alzheimer’s in the family. 
    • Testing for the ApoE gene can enhance diagnostic confidence, but it isn’t recommended during the screening phase.

    Coping with cognitive decline can be extremely hard for a loved one, so why not make things easier for them from the start and buy the Best Day Clock from American Lifetime. It comes with a user-friendly interface, alarms, easy to read large display, options for text-to-speech, and tells the user whether it is Morning or Evening. 

    The Best Day Clock will not only grant some independence to loved ones diagnosed with cognitive impairment. Still, it will also make things easier for caregivers – it’s the ultimate gift for your loved ones during this stressful time. 

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