Close transcript window

Transcript: "Diagnosing Alzheimer's Disease"

As people age, sometimes their relatives and friends judge their forgetfulness as a sign of old age. The fact is, forgetfulness that interferes with daily functions is not part of the normal aging process. This kind of behavior has a physiologic cause. In this situation the condition may be Alzheimer's disease. A person forgets things, becomes disoriented, loses track of time, can't find the right words, or no longer remembers how to do simple tasks. These are all symptoms of changes in cognitive abilities, and Alzheimer's disease may be the cause. Alzheimer's disease can easily be mistaken for a number of other medical conditions as well. So, doctors may decide to conduct a variety of tests to pinpoint the cause, just as they did in this office. To rule out any physical causes, the doctor's staff starts by taking a patient history. The doctor then performs a complete physical exam, which includes obtaining blood tests. These may detect vitamin deficiencies, thyroid disorders, or other chemical or metabolic imbalances. Special tests might also be ordered. For example, an EEG may determine evidence of a seizure disorder. A CT scan or MRI may detect small strokes and brain tumors. Neuropsychological tests, like a paper and pencil test, measure memory and other intellectual abilities, such as language, visual-spatial perception, judgment and orientation. As people age, some loss of mental faculties is expected. But it is not normal that this loss interferes with normal everyday functioning. Other things can also cause people to appear confused or disoriented: Depression, dehydration, constipation, and improper diet can all produce symptoms similar to Alzheimer's disease. Alcoholism, over-medication, and the wrong combinations of prescription and over-the-counter medications may also account for changes in cognitive ability. Some of these conditions can be cured or treated, but Alzheimer's disease currently cannot. It's easy to see why a comprehensive physical evaluation is necessary to rule out curable or treatable conditions.

Close transcript window