The problem with diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease is to separate what is normal aging from a disease process. We have all misplaced our keys or forgotten why we walked into a room; but is this Alzheimer’s disease? The key to diagnosis is that the problems presented by the disease begin to affect a person’s work, personal, education or social activities.
While definite brain changes are seen in Alzheimer’s patients, the diagnosis is usually not made until after death when an autopsy confirms these changes in the brain. Doctors will diagnose Alzheimer’s disease on the basis of symptoms and by ruling out all other possible conditions that might be causing the problems. Typically a doctor will perform:
- A physical exam,
- Mental status tests,
- Blood tests,
- Computerized tomography (CT or CAT scan),
- And magnetic resonance imagery (MRI).
There is no definitive test for Alzheimer’s disease. Genetic testing has shown certain people have a higher risk of getting the disease. People who have the apolipoprotein E-e4 (APOE-e4) gene are more likely to have the disease. But having the APOE-e4 gene does not mean a person has the disease - only an increased risk of getting the disease.
A new test that combines a spinal fluid test along with positron emission tomography (PET) may become the definitive test for Alzheimer’s, but for now, it is only used for research purposes.