Join for Just $16 A Year
- Discounts on travel and everyday savings
- Subscription to AARP The Magazine
- Free membership for your spouse or partner
At one time, Alzheimer’s disease (AD) only was confirmed after a person had died and an autopsy was performed on the brain. Today, physicians are able to make accurate diagnosis in a living person.
Still, AD diagnosis is not an exact science. The reason: there are various conditions that show similar symptoms to AD. And while genetics play a role in AD, approximately 75 percent of those with AD have no known family history of the condition. Thus, it is essential you consult with a doctor experienced in AD diagnostics.
An experienced AD doctor will take the following steps.
A detailed patient history will be conducted, including:
Also, the doctor may speak with the patient’s friends and family. They can offer insight into his or hers personality, behavior, memory, and cognitive skills.
A comprehensive physical exam will be conducted, including:
The most common neuropsychological test is the Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE). The MMSE includes a selection of questions and tasks designed to evaluate a patient’s basic cognitive (mental) status. Examples include: do they know today’s date and where they are; can they repeat a list of words or a phrases; can they count backwards from 100 by sevens. This test is not perfect. For example, the results can be affected, by a person’s level of education. Yet it is a good starting point for assessing AD.
Diagnosing early-onset AD (when symptoms appear in a person well before the age of 60) will likely include genetic testing.
Diagnosing dementias and AD used to be straightforward. Family or friends would notice problems with a person’s ability to think, learn, and remember.
But our knowledge about dementias and AD has increased over the years. It is now believed AD creates changes in the brain years, and even decades, before symptoms show up. In response, the National Institute on Aging (NIA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the Alzheimer’s Association have published the following three phases to better reflect AD progression over time.
This involves changes that may indicate the earliest signs of AD. Examples include measurable , measurable changes in biomarkers, such as brain imaging and spinal fluid chemistry. Currently, there are no clinical diagnostic criteria for this phase. However, an outline has been created to help define this AD stage.
This denotes mild changes in memory and thinking abilities. These can be noticed and measured, but not to the extent it affects a person’s ability to function independently and perform everyday activities.
This denotes cognitive (e.g., memory and thinking) and behavioral symptoms that impair a person’s ability to function in daily life.
Written by: Wendy Leonard, MPH
Published on May 11, 2011
Updated on Sep 28, 2012
Medically reviewed by Jennifer Monti, MPH, MD
Enter your symptoms in our Symptom Checker to find out possible causes of your symptoms. Go.
Enter any list of prescription drugs and see how they interact with each other and with other substances. Go.
Enter its color and shape information, and this tool helps you identify it. Go.
Find information on drug interactions, side effects, and more. Go.
From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.
Members get a free Rx card from AARP® Prescription Discounts provided by Catamaran.
Members get 10 free health tests from Walgreens Way to Well Health Tour with AARP®.
Members learn the ABCs of buying health insurance with Aetna’s 15-Minute Health Insurance Guide.
Caregiving can be a lonely journey, but AARP offers resources that can help.