Detection and Proper Diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease

Jackie Bedard
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Attorney, Author, and Founder of Carolina Family Estate Planning

The Alzheimer's Planning Center--We Help People Impacted By Cognitive Impairment Plan For The Best Life PossibleMany people find it difficult to take the first steps necessary to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease. Often, an individual and his or her family members do not want to admit there is a problem. This denial often delays the process of dealing with the disease and obtaining the necessary help and support services.

Identifying the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease is the first step in early detection of the disease. Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of the aging process; however, memory loss can be caused by many different factors, including infection, organs that are not functioning properly, an injury to the head from a fall, alcohol use, medication effects, or vitamin deficiency[1]. Many people worry that they or someone they care about is developing dementia because they seem to be forgetting things more often, can’t seem to locate their keys or glasses, don’t remember the birthday of their grandchild, or forget where they parked in the grocery store lot. These unsettling experiences may only be a part of the normal process of aging. A helpful comparison[2] of natural aging and Alzheimer’s disease notes the following differences:                                                                             

Natural Aging

Alzheimer’s disease

Occasional bad decisions.

Frequent poor judgement and bad decisions.

Missing a monthly payment.

Unable to manage paying bills .

Momentarily forgets what day it is but then remembers.

Loses track of the date or season.

Forgets a name or confuses a word on occasion.

Trouble finding words to carry on a conversation.

Misplaces an item now and then.

Often loses items and has no idea where they are.

If unusual symptoms or behavioral patterns arise, a physician should be consulted. Behaviors that are of concern include the following list, taken verbatim from the National Institute on Aging website:[3]

  • Asking the same questions over and over again
  • Getting lost in places a person knows well
  • Not being able to follow directions
  • Becoming more confused about time, people, and places
  • Not taking care of oneself—eating poorly, not bathing, or being unsafe

There is not a current cure for Alzheimer’s disease; however, there are treatments and services that will make life easier for not only the person with Alzheimer’s, but also his or her family and caregiver.

Timely diagnosis will allow caregivers and family members to plan for the disease process. Knowledge is power. First, it is important to learn about the disease and to identify the resources available to help those affected by the disease and their family members. Next, choose a health care professional that is right for you. The person diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, or his or her caregiver, should contact not only a family physician, but also, a neurologist, psychiatrist, and/or psychologist. Medications that could help manage behavioral symptoms, and the appropriateness of medications that may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease should be discussed early in the diagnosis. Although there is no drug that will cure the disease, advances in research have shown that some drugs and certain behavioral and dietary initiatives may slow down the disease process or make living with the disease less exhausting.

There is no single test that will prove an individual has Alzheimer’s disease. After ruling out or addressing any treatable causes of symptoms, the medical professional will consider factors that could be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s. Age, and a family history of the disease, dietary and heart health factors, and even environmental factors are considered.

The physician will not only discuss these risk factors and symptoms, but also will review medical records, diet, and medications. This information and the physical exam could help rule out other possible causes of the memory loss. Tests that could be used to arrive at a diagnosis include brain scans, neuropsychological exams, blood tests, psychiatric evaluation, and genetic testing[4]

Additionally, the physician may conduct a mini-mental state exam (MMSE). This test is most commonly used by health care providers to test an individual’s mental capacity. The individual will be asked a series of questions to screen for cognitive impairment over a number of areas. The maximum possible score is 30. Scores of 26 or less generally show some sign of cognitive decline. The forms and/or software for this test can be obtained at www.minimental.com.

In addition to the MMSE, another widely used mental test is the mini-cog. This test is composed of a three-word recall and a clock drawing test.

Call us at 919-443-3035. One of our friendly Client Welcome Specialists will be happy to tell you more about The Alzheimer’s Planning Center and our unique Memory Safeguard Planning, to help you determine the best path forward, and to help you take the next steps toward a more secure future and a better life.


[1] National Institute on Aging, Do Memory Problem’s Always mean Alzheimer’s? Memory Loss Related to Medical Conditions, available at https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/do-memory-problems-always-mean-alzheimers-disease (last visited Feb. 28, 2018).

[2] National Institute on Aging, Do Memory Problem’s Always mean Alzheimer’s? Differences Between Normal Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease, available at https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/do-memory-problems-always-mean-alzheimers-disease (last visited Feb. 28, 2018).

[3] The National Institute on Aging, Symptoms and Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease. Noticing Memory Problems? What to do Next, available at https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/noticing-memory-problems-what-do-next (last visited Feb. 28, 2018).

[4] The National Institute on Aging, Symptoms and Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease, Diagnosing Dementia, available at https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/diagnosing-dementia (last visited Feb.28, 2018).