Alzheimer’s disease has become one of the leading causes of death in the United States. One of the requests we hear every so often from patients is how to tell if you have alzheimer’s disease.
Roughly 5.4 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s, and in fact, the disease is documented as the sixth-leading cause of death in the country – an astonishing one out of every nine people 65 years and older have Alzheimer’s.
So, what can you do if you suspect that you or a loved one has Alzheimer’s? The most important thing to know is that there is no single definitive test that can confirm it; in fact, it’s impossible to confirm the presence of the disease with complete certainty, until after death. However, by working with your physician team, and undergoing a series of physical exams and diagnostic tests, you’ll be able to pinpoint if you have the disease or not.
Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s Disease
Although diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease can be tricky, in roughly ninety percent of cases, healthcare providers can accurately diagnose the illness.
Alzheimer’s sufferers display many behavioral symptoms in common with other conditions, such as depression, deficient nutrition, and combining medications that don’t work effectively together.
Alzheimer’s typically begins with a failure to recall recent events, learn and absorb fresh information and show energy or inspiration for prior passions. In the early stages of the disease, memory difficulties can hinder daily living and get worse over time. Other early warning signs may include the inability to:
- Find the correct words when speaking
- Think abstractly
- Follow instructions
- Manage money
- Make decisions
Screening and Testing for Alzheimer’s Disease
Your doctor will be able to determine if your symptoms are the result of Alzheimer’s, or due to another treatable ailment, through the following process:
Your physician will take your complete medical history, including information on recent or past conditions, physical and mental symptoms, and any medication you’re currently taking or took in the past. They’ll also want to know if your family has a history of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia related illnesses.
Medical Exam and Tests
Your doctor will conduct a full physical exam, including blood and urine analyses, in order to determine the potential presence of Alzheimer’s, and to rule out other possible causes of dementia. A blood test may be done to help ascertain how well your thyroid is functioning, as insufficient thyroid hormone production can lead to dementia in older people. Your blood work will show if you have a lack of vitamin B12, which can also be responsible for dementia.
Undergoing a brain scan or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) can help your physician determine if you have Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia; scans can also confirm the existence of other conditions such as the amassing of blood on the surface of the brain, stroke and/or brain tumors.
Alzheimer’s disease is associated with precise structural alterations in the brain that a scan can reveal; you may undergo an electroencephalogram (EEG) to determine the flow of electrical movement in your brain.
Only the results from a physician’s physical medical exam and laboratory testing can accurately establish whether you have Alzheimer’s, or other ailments that can lead to memory loss, scattered thinking, or problems concentrating, such as:
- Thyroid problems
- Kidney or liver disease
- Vitamin deficiency
- Complications with the heart, blood vessels and lungs
Early Detection Can Buy Time
Properly diagnosing Alzheimer’s early on can provide you or a family member with additional time to prepare for the future. Certain medications are available that can help alleviate some of the symptoms experienced in the early stages of the disease.
The Self-Administered Gerocognitive Exam (SAGE) is a fast and easy test, created to uncover early problems of thinking, cognition, or recall. It will assess your cognitive aptitudes and help your doctor understand how efficiently your brain is operating.
If you or someone close to you is experiencing symptoms that could be the result of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia, you should make an appointment with your physician.