Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease is not easy. It may take several appointments to reach a diagnosis for the disease. When consulting with the doctor, he or she will take a detailed history and do a complete clinical examination. He or she will then carry out many other tests, including a test of intellectual disabilities (testing mental abilities), a psychiatric assessment, and a neuropsychological test. Neuropsychological tests are tests that are designed to test the psychological function of a specific area of the brain. Other tests that will help in making a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease are blood and urine tests, a lumbar puncture to assess the cerebrospinal fluid, and medical imaging such as MRI and PET scans.
All of the above tests are done to exclude all the possible causes that would have a similar presentation as Alzheimer’s disease. After all of these causes are ruled out, a clinical diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease can be made. The only way to confirm the diagnosis is by examining the brain tissue. As this is not possible to be done in a living person, the diagnosis can only be confirmed after death.
In addition to the above tests, your healthcare provider will refer you to a specialist memory assessment service to aid the diagnosis. This includes a multidisciplinary team of nurses, a psychologist, a neurologist, a geriatrician, a social worker, and an occupational therapist.
How is my mental status assessed?
Psychiatrists use a simple test known as the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) to assess the areas of difficulty that you may have. This does not diagnose Alzheimer’s. The Mini-Mental State Examination uses a series of questions and activities, such as memorizing a few objects and testing if you could identify the current time, date, person, and place.
The MMSE helps the psychiatrist to decide on the required treatment.
Other tests to rule out the other possibilities
Other tests like CT scans and MRI scans are helpful to rule out other possible causes.
A Computerized Tomography (CT) scan is a radiological method that takes several x-rays of your brain at different angles and provides you images.
A Magnetic Resonant Imaging (MRI) Scan uses magnetic and radio waves to create a detailed image of your brain.
After diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease your doctor may start you on treatment. But remember that there are medications to reduce the symptoms by some mild amount, but there are no medications to reverse the symptoms of the disease.