Alzheimer's disease is a progressive, degenerative disease. Symptoms include loss of memory, judgment and reasoning; difficulty with day-to-day tasks; and changes in communication abilities, mood and behaviour. If you notice any of these symptoms, it is important to see your doctor.
Why find out?
Symptoms of Alzheimer's disease can be similar to symptoms of other conditions such as depression, thyroid or heart disease, infections, drug interactions or alcohol abuse.
Finding out the cause of the symptoms can help people:
Making the diagnosis
There is currently no single test that can tell if a person has Alzheimer's disease. The diagnosis is made through a systematic assessment which eliminates other possible causes. Until the time when there is a conclusive test, doctors may continue to use the words "probable Alzheimer's disease". However, you should be aware that doctors making this diagnosis are accurate 80 to 90 per cent of the time.
Making the diagnosis can take time. The diagnosis can be made in a family doctor's office, a memory clinic or a hospital. The doctor may or may not feel that the person needs to see a number of health-care professionals to help make the diagnosis. These may include a psychologist, psychiatrist, neurologist, geriatrician, nurse, social worker or occupational therapist. They will look for problems with the person's memory, reasoning ability, language and judgment, and how these affect day-to-day function.
The process involves:
Mental status exam
Other tests such as X-rays and EEG's (electroencephalogram) may be used to determine the source of the problem. In some centres, scans may be used. The following may be recommended, but are not always necessary for a diagnosis:
- CT (computerized tomography) scan and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) take images of the brain.
- SPECT (single proton emission computed tomography) shows how blood is circulating to the brain.
- PET (positive electron tomography) shows how the different areas of the brain respond during certain activities such as reading and talking.
- Psychiatric and psychological evaluations
Preparing for the assessment
On the day of the appointment, it will be useful to have the following information on hand. Writing this information down and be sure to bring it with you.
Things you will be asked:
Things you may want to ask:
It may be helpful to have a family member of a friend accompany you to appointments and tests. Think about who you would like to invite and talk about how they can help.
The family's role
Sometimes the person experiencing the problems will go to see her doctor. For others, the family will play a role in alerting the doctor of a problem.
Tips to lend a hand:
If the diagnosis is Alzheimer's disease
You may want to ask:
Please call us at 416-322-6560 at any time of the process for additional information, community referral or support.
Source: Getting a Diagnosis Alzheimer Society of Canada, 2009.
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