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Alzheimer's Disease Symptoms And Diagnosis

Alzheimer's disease begins slowly. At first, the only symptom may be mild forgetfulness. People in the early stage of Alzheimer's disease may have trouble remembering recent events, activities, or the names of familiar people or things. Simple math problems may become hard to solve. Such difficulties may be a bother, but usually they are not serious enough to cause alarm.

However, as the disease goes on, forgetfulness begins to interfere with daily activities. People may forget the way home or find it hard to cope with daily life. Such symptoms are more easily noticed and become serious enough to cause people with Alzheimer's disease or their family members to seek medical help.

People in the middle stages of Alzheimer's disease may forget how to do basic tasks, like brushing their teeth or combing their hair. They can no longer think clearly. They begin to have problems speaking, understanding, reading, or writing. Later on, people with Alzheimer's disease may become anxious, agitated or aggressive, or wander away from home. Eventually, patients need total care.

An early, accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease helps patients and their families plan for the future. It gives them time to discuss care options while the patient can still take part in making decisions. And even though no drug can slow the onset or the progression of Alzheimer's, early diagnosis offers the best chance to treat the symptoms of the disease.

Today, the only definite way to diagnose Alzheimer's disease is to find out whether there are plaques and tangles in brain tissue. To look at brain tissue, doctors must wait until they do an autopsy, which is an examination of the body done after a person dies.

Therefore, doctors can only make a diagnosis of "possible" or "probable" Alzheimer's disease while the person is still alive. At specialized centers, doctors can diagnose Alzheimer's disease correctly up to 90 percent of the time.

Doctors use several tools to diagnose "probable" Alzheimer's disease:

  • A complete medical history with questions about the person's general health, past medical problems, and any difficulties carrying out daily activities.
  • Medical tests, such as tests of blood, urine or spinal fluid.
  • Tests to measure memory, problem solving, attention, counting, and language.
  • Brain scans that allow the doctor to look at a picture of the brain to see if anything does not look normal.

Sometimes, these test results help the doctor find other possible causes of the person's symptoms. For example, thyroid problems, drug reactions, depression, brain tumors, and blood vessel disease in the brain can cause symptoms similar to those of Alzheimer's. Some of these other conditions can be treated successfully.

Recently, scientists have focused on a type of memory change called mild cognitive impairment, or MCI. MCI is different from both Alzheimer's disease and age-related memory change. People with MCI have ongoing memory problems but do not have noticeable problems in other areas like confusion, attention problems, and difficulty with language.


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The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies.

Copyright Information: Public domain information with acknowledgement given to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.


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Directory:Tell Me About Senior Health Alzheimer's Disease