Alzheimer’s disease is an irreversible brain disease. It slowly destroys a person’s mind and the ability to complete everyday tasks. There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s.
Doctors diagnose Alzheimer’s by conducting tests, noting behavior changes, and assessing memory impairment. There are many different types of doctors who can diagnose and treat Alzheimer’s.
If you notice changes in a friend’s or loved one’s memory, thinking, or behavior, you should contact their primary care physician. They can help with the following:
- conduct an exam to see if any physical or mental issue has caused the problems
- give a brief memory-screening test, such as the Abbreviated Mental Test Score (AMTS). A score lower than six out of ten suggests a need for further evaluation
- provide essential medical history information needed for an accurate diagnosis
- identify changes in the patient’s memory and thinking others may miss
The doctor also can refer you to the right kind of specialists as needed.
Geriatricians work with older adults. They know whether symptoms indicate a serious problem.
Geriatric psychiatrists specialize in mental and emotional problems of older adults. They can assess memory and thinking problems.
Neurologists focus on abnormalities of the brain and central nervous system. They can conduct and review brain scans.
Neuropsychologists perform tests of memory and thinking.
Places like the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers have teams of specialists to help with diagnosis. A geriatrician can review your general health, a neuropsychologist can test your thinking and memory, and a neurologist can use scanning technology to “see” inside your brain. Tests often are done on site, which can shorten the time required to make a diagnosis.
Although not right for everyone, clinical trials may be an option. Begin your research at a credible place, such as the Alzheimer's Disease Clinical Trials Database. This is a joint project of the NIA and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It’s maintained by the NIA's Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center.
AD diagnosis is not always easy. A second opinion is sometimes part of the process. Most medical professionals understand this and should give you a referral. If not, there are a number of other resources available, including the Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center, which is a service of the National Institute on Aging (NIA).