Alzheimer's Disease

Frequently Asked Questions

11. How is Alzheimer's disease diagnosed?

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.