Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

How Alzheimer's Disease is Diagnosed

There is yet to be one affordable, non-invasive, definitive test to diagnose Alzheimer’s in a living person.

Doctors diagnose Alzheimer’s using a combination of techniques. These techniques rule out causes of memory disruptions other than Alzheimer’s.

Ruling out causes of memory disruptions other than Alzheimer’s is important because some causes are treatable and possibly reversible. They include side effects of medications, infections, sleep disturbances, strokes, tumors, Parkinson’s disease, mild cognitive impairment, or a non-Alzheimer’s dementia.

Your doctor may do some or all the following:

  • Ask your loved one, family members or friends questions about
    • Overall health
    • Use of prescription and over-the-counter medicines
    • Diet
    • Medical history
    • Ability to carry out daily activities
    • Changes in behavior and personality
  • Conduct tests on
    • Memory
    • Problem solving
    • Attention
    • Counting
    • Language
  • Carry out standard medical tests, such as blood and urine tests, to identify other possible causes of the problem
  • Perform brain scans, such as computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or positron emission tomography (PET), to rule out other possible causes for symptoms

These tests may be repeated in the years ahead to give doctors information about how your loved one’s memory and other cognitive functions are changing over time.

If a primary care doctor suspects possible Alzheimer’s, he or she may refer your loved one to a specialist who can provide a detailed diagnosis or further assessment.

Specialists include:

  • Geriatricians, who manage health care in older adults and know how the body changes as it ages and whether symptoms indicate a serious problem
  • Geriatric psychiatrists, who specialize in the mental and emotional problems of older adults and can assess memory and thinking problems
  • Neurologists, who specialize in abnormalities of the brain and central nervous system and can conduct and review brain scans
  • Neuropsychologists, who can conduct tests of memory and thinking

Early Diagnosis Allows for Planning

Early diagnosis of Alzheimer’s allows loved ones and family members to prepare. Alzheimer’s impacts all aspects of life. The sooner you begin to prepare, the less stress you and your family will feel in the future.

  • Prepare the people living near your loved one for the changes they will see in the years to come. Familiarize them with the ways Alzheimer’s effects
    • Cognition
    • Function
    • Relationships
    • Emotions
    • Communication
  • Take care of financial and legal matters
  • Develop support networks
  • Address safety needs
  • Improves opportunities to participate in clinical trials
  • While the underlying Alzheimer’s process cannot be stopped or reversed, early treatment may preserve daily functioning for a time.

AlzTimeline: Patterns in Time

AlzTimeline: Patterns in Time is the first resource that invites you to plan for your family’s Alzheimer’s journey using a real family’s experience. This timeline tracks the impact of Alzheimer’s on one woman and her family. It reveals the choices she and her family made for her care. Most importantly, it challenges you to weigh the care choices you and your family will need to make, and to get busy preparing.

  • What resources are you open to trying?
  • What can you do to avoid caregiver burnout?
  • Can out-of-town family members be involved? How?

Created in 2017 as a passion-project by the adult daughter of the featured family, award-winning Patterns in Time is now used by groups of siblings, extended family members, educators, support groups, Memory Care Centers, book clubs and spiritual caregivers.