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Early Detection of Alzheimer's Disease
By Kristine Dwyer, Staff Writer

(Page 2 of 6)

The Family Questionnaire is designed to help identify patients with memory problems that might go unnoticed by clinicians. It consists of five simple questions:

  • In your opinion, does your loved one have problems with any of the following challenges and how often?
  • Repeating or asking the same thing over and over?
  • Remembering appointments, family occasions, holidays?
  • Writing checks, paying bills, and balancing the checkbook?
  • Deciding what groceries or clothes to buy?
  • Taking medications according to instructions?

The information collected from these tools can be shared with the patient’s primary care physician and then a determination of need for further testing or a referral to a specialist can be made at that time.

There is no single diagnostic test to detect whether a person has Alzheimer’s disease. However, diagnostic tools and criteria have been developed in recent years to make a clinical diagnosis of AD with an accuracy rate of 85-90 percent.

The factors used to complete a diagnosis include:

  • Medical History
  • Mental Status Evaluation
  • Physical Examination
  • Neurological Examination
  • Neuropsychological Evaluation
  • Brain Scans
  • Laboratory Tests

The assessment of AD might begin with a memory screening test in the primary care physician’s office and then the patient may be referred to a neurologist, neuropsychologist, a geriatric psychiatrist or other specialist trained in the diagnosis of AD for further testing. Caregivers and family members are essential to the process of diagnosing early-stage Alzheimer’s disease. They may be able to supply valuable information and validate or deny the patient’s own reports.

A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease usually falls into one of three categories:

  1. Probable Alzheimer’s—indicates a physician has ruled out all other disorders that may be causing the dementia.
  2. Possible Alzheimer’s—indicates the presence of another disorder that could be affecting the understood progression of Alzheimer’s. The disease process appears different than what is normally seen; yet Alzheimer’s disease is still considered the primary cause of dementia symptoms.
  3. Definite Alzheimer’s— this diagnosis can only be made at the time of an autopsy because it requires examination of actual brain tissue. An autopsy can confirm the presence of senile plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain, which are the characteristic lesions of Alzheimer’s, to diagnose the disease with 100 percent accuracy.


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