Mayo Clinic: How soon can Alzheimer’s disease be diagnosed?
What are the early symptoms to watch for?
is no one test that can be used to diagnose Alzheimer’s
disease. But, based on an assessment of symptoms, along with a
variety of tests and exams, Alzheimer’s often can be
identified in its earliest stages. Seeking medical attention
as soon as Alzheimer’s symptoms become noticeable is key to
a prompt diagnosis.
common early symptom of Alzheimer’s disease is
forgetfulness. Distinguishing between memory loss that is due
to aging and memory loss due to Alzheimer’s can be tricky
people get older, the number of cells, or neurons, in the
brain goes down. That can make it harder to learn new things
or to remember familiar words. Older adults may have
difficulty coming up with names of acquaintances, for example,
or they may have trouble finding reading glasses or car keys.
In most cases, these memory lapses do not signal the beginning
of Alzheimer’s disease.
of forgetfulness that is worrisome involves forgetting
information that a person formerly always would have
remembered. For example, a favorite social event gets missed,
like a tee time for a weekly golf game. Or, a calendar item
that an individual usually would make a priority goes
unnoticed, like a doctor’s appointment. If this happens once
in a while, it probably is not a problem. If a person starts
to have trouble making these connections regularly, then it is
time to see a doctor.
medical evaluation also is in order if memory lapses lead to
problems in a person’s day-to-day life or if someone begins
to have trouble with mental tasks. Examples include becoming
overwhelmed or confused when faced with decisions, having a
difficult time driving, getting irritated or upset when mental
concentration is required to complete a task, getting lost on
the way to a familiar location, or having trouble following
early warning sign of Alzheimer’s can be a change in
behavior or personality, for example, a normally outgoing
person who withdraws from friends and family and refuses
social engagements. Depression and other mood changes may be
symptoms of early Alzheimer’s, too.
after reviewing a person’s symptoms, a doctor suspects
Alzheimer’s, tests that assess memory and other thinking
skills, judge functional abilities and identify behavior
changes can be useful in determining if Alzheimer’s could be
to blame. Talking with family members about a person’s
cognitive skills, functional abilities and daily behaviors,
and how they have changed over time is often helpful, too.
exams and laboratory tests can help show what is happening
within the brain. Brain images obtained through CT, MRI or
other scans may be able to show loss of brain cells or the
development of proteins known to contribute to Alzheimer’s.
Laboratory tests can help rule out other disorders that can
cause symptoms similar to those of Alzheimer’s disease, such
as a thyroid disorder or vitamin B-12 deficiency. This type of
thorough evaluation often can diagnose Alzheimer’s disease
in its early stages.
accurate diagnosis is important, because, once the disease has
been identified, doctors may be able to offer medications to
help manage Alzheimer’s symptoms and possibly slow decline
in memory and other cognitive skills. Knowing they are dealing
with Alzheimer’s when it’s still in its early stages also
allows people with the disease, and their families, to learn
about ways to cope and to take time to plan for the future.