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Alzheimer's Disease

Diagnosing Alzheimer's Disease

09/06/2006

Question:

I`m a 69 year old male with problems of repeating & forgetting. The doctor gave me a three min oral exam then sent me for a CAT scan and blood work. He told me my blood work and CAT scan were all normal but that he was sure I had Alzheimer's. He`s basing this on my not remembering three words he asked me to remember and not being able to spell words backwards. He has me on 5mg aricept. Is there a more sure way to diagnosis this disease.

Answer:

Alzheimer's disease is a clinical diagnosis. There are no specific blood tests, for example, that can be taken to say that you have or do not have Alzheimer's disease. Usually, a CAT scan and blood tests are done to rule out other conditions that might look like Alzheimer's disease.

Alzheimer's disease is usually diagnosed by the history of complaints and cognitive (pen and paper) tests. The pattern of deficits or wrong answers on these cognitive tests might have suggested a pattern typical for Alzheimer's disease in your case. You could have more extensive cognitive tests performed if there is doubt about the pattern of deficits. Sometimes these tests are performed by a neuropsychologist.

At times a functional imaging study can help pick out Alzheimer's disease from other causes of memory loss. These are studies called SPECT or PET scans. Medicare will pay for one or the other of these scans if the doctor has doubt as to the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease.

Aricept is a good medication for Alzheimer's disease and we usually start at 5 mg a day for a month before going to 10 mg a day. Talk to your doctor about your concerns regarding diagnosis and they could probably provide more information for you. Also consider talking to the people from the Alzheimer's Association a support organization that has Alzheimer's Disease chapters in your area.

For more information:

Go to the Alzheimer's Disease health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Douglas W Scharre, MD Douglas W Scharre, MD
Clinical Associate Professor of Neurology
Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University