Doctors use several methods and tools to help determine whether a person who is having memory problems has “possible Alzheimer’s dementia” (dementia may be due to another cause), “probable Alzheimer’s dementia” (no other cause for dementia can be found), or some other problem.
To diagnose Alzheimer’s, doctors may:
These tests may be repeated to give doctors information about how the person’s memory and other cognitive functions are changing over time. They can also help diagnose other causes of memory problems, such as stroke, tumor, Parkinson’s disease, sleep disturbances, side effects of medication, an infection, mild cognitive impairment, or a non-Alzheimer’s dementia, including vascular dementia. Some of these conditions may be treatable and possibly reversible.
People with memory problems should return to the doctor every 6 to 12 months.
It’s important to note that Alzheimer’s disease can be definitivelydiagnosed only after death, by linking clinical measures with an examination of brain tissue in an autopsy. Occasionally, biomarkers—measures of what is happening inside the living body—are used to diagnose Alzheimer’s.
What Happens Next?
If a primary care doctor suspects mild cognitive impairment or possible Alzheimer’s, he or she may refer the patient to a specialist who can provide a detailed diagnosis or further assessment. Specialists include:
Memory clinics and centers, including Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers, offer teams of specialists who work together to diagnose the problem. Tests often are done at the clinic or center, which can speed up diagnosis.
Source: National Institutes of Health