Frequently Asked Questions
11. How is Alzheimer's disease diagnosed?
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The only definitive way to diagnose Alzheimer's disease is to find out whether plaques and tangles exist in brain tissue. To look at brain tissue, doctors perform a brain autopsy, an examination of the brain done after a person dies.
Doctors can only make a diagnosis of "possible" or “probable” Alzheimer’s disease while a person is alive. Doctors with special training can diagnose Alzheimer's disease correctly up to 90 percent of the time. Doctors who can diagnose Alzheimer’s include geriatricians, geriatric psychiatrists, and neurologists. A geriatrician specializes in the treatment of older adults. A geriatric psychiatrist specializes in mental problems in older adults. A neurologist specializes in brain and nervous system disorders.
To diagnose Alzheimer's disease, doctors may
- ask questions about overall health, past medical problems, ability to carry out daily activities, and changes in behavior and personality
- conduct tests to measure memory, problem solving, attention, counting, and language skills
- carry out standard medical tests, such as blood and urine tests
- perform brain scans to look for anything in the brain that does not look normal.