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Alzheimer's Diagnosis

6 Steps to a Diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease

By , Caring.com contributing editor
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If a parent or other family member has started to show signs of dementia or possible Alzheimer's disease, you may feel overwhelmed and unable to figure out what to do. Your most important priority is to get a diagnosis. The earlier you can put a name to the problem, the easier it is to organize a care plan.

Six steps to a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease

1. Create a record

There's no single test for Alzheimer's disease or most other dementias. In fact, a definitive diagnosis can only be made after death, by examining brain tissue for telltale changes. But doctors can make a probable diagnosis of Alzheimer's with as much as 90 percent certainty. Start here:

It's almost always family members, more than physicians, who spot the first signs of Alzheimer's disease. Start by writing down observations that you and others make of the person you're concerned about. You'll be better able to notice patterns or changes in the frequency of certain behaviors than if you keep a mental record. This evidence is incredibly useful when you speak with medical professionals and may even help when discussing the topic with family and friends.

This same notebook can also serve as your "playbook" throughout your family's journey, a central source of all the information that will be needed not only to make a diagnosis but to formulate an ongoing care plan. Having all the information you need in one place can be a valuable shortcut for families.

What to record:

  • His or her general medical history: current and past medical problems and conditions
  • Current medications and their dosages
  • Other family members' histories of illnesses (including Alzheimer's disease and other types of dementia)
  • Contact information for doctors and pharmacists
  • A record of who has been consulted and when
  • Symptoms

Part of the determination about the condition will have to do with how much the person has changed or how much you think he or she isn't "acting like himself or herself." Be sure to note when you first noticed a particular change in behavior, physical ability, or mental ability (or about how long the change has been occurring); how frequently it occurs; if it has worsened; and how different or "abnormal" it is for him or her.

  • Other observations

Try to include as much information as you can about the person's condition -- not just things that you think are typically associated with Alzheimer's. Other medical issues or unexpected changes (such as falling or incontinence) can be related to the disease.