How do I go about diagnosing Alzheimer's for my mom?

3 answers | Last updated: Mar 28, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

How do I go about diagnosing Alzheimer's for my mom?

Expert Answers

Paula Spencer Scott, contributing editor, is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's. A Met Life Foundation Journalists in Aging fellow, she writes extensively about health and caregiving; four of her family members have had dementia.

A doctor diagnoses Alzheimer's disease by process of elimination -- making sure there is no other possible cause for the worrisome symptoms. Many different things can cause memory loss, for example. He also will run some simple cognition tests that have a high accuracy in diagnosing dementia. See this article, "The Path to an Alzheimer's Disease Diagnosis." It's important to have your mother see a doctor and get a professional opinion, for two reasons. 1) If another problem is causing symptoms, you want to have it properly treated, and 2) If it is Alzheimer's, knowing this for sure can better help both of you marshal resources and prepare for the future.

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Community Answers

Manfredeaf answered...

My wife was 63 years old when we, our adult daughters and i noticed that my wife could not remember dates, appointments etc. We urged her to visit her doctor. But she kept denying the problem. A year and a half ago i tried to tell her internist that something is wrong with my wife's brain. His nurses would not connect me with him and on the day of her annual physical he approached her - that is what my wife told me - "what is wrong with your head". My wife was furious when she came home because we dared to talk behind her back to her doctor. She was not send to a neurologist or anybody else. I noticed that my wife gave up driving last year in the fall. She also asked me todo the additions of expenses for her so she could write the proper check. I studied the information available on the internet for over one year now about Alzheimer's disease. I talked to my doctor friends about this and they recommended to see a neurologist. Finally my wife in June of this year admitted that something was wrong with her and we saw a neurologist who started with a simple test: draw a circle and add the numbers of a watch in this circle. To my disbelieve, my wife could not do this. She neither could copy a simple drawing of a triangle. After an MRI, EEG and PET scan and a meeting with a psychologist we were informed that my wife has Alzheimer's disease in a somewhat progressed stage. Next month she will be 65, we are married for 44 years. It is difficult for both of us, especially for my wife since she fully understands what her future will be. The cost for caring for an Alzheimer's patient is very high. I urge everybody to get a long term disability insurance. At younger age the cost is not prohibitive. I truly hope that stem cell research could lead to one possible cure, especially now that we know that even younger adults come down with this disease and that in 10 years about 60 million people worldwide will have to suffer from Alzheimer's. Churches should by no means be against stem cell research!! Why was the medical research not able to detect the cause of this disease ?? Did we not focus enough on it ? Were other diseases more important for research and pharmaceutical companies??

Frena answered...

amateurs cannot possibly diagnose "alzheimer's" in a person. what looks like dementia may have dozens of different actual causes, many of them nothing to do with the state of the brain. getting the complete alzheimer's workup is a MUST. i can't believe we are still having to say this, but every day in my work i meet a family wondering if Mom or Dad has alzheimer's and yet doing nothing to find out. the big reason to find out is that up to 20 percent of people thought to have alzheimer's actually have fixable physical illnesses or conditions. even in alzheimer's, my experience in alzheimer's care situations is that as many as 20 percent of people actually diagnosed as having alzheimer's in fact have a mental illness condition. so, with so many variables, it is very important for family members not to even imagine that they could possibly "diagnose" family members for themselves. even doctors can't do that. they need a whole battery of tests.