Alzheimer's disease represents an insidious and progressive neurocognitive disorder. With symptoms that tend to emerge almost unnoticeably, early, occasional lapses of memory frequently get overlooked as simple cases of forgetfulness. However, over time, it becomes clear that something is happening to the mind of a loved one, neighbor, or friend.
What are the hallmark features of Alzheimer's Disease?
As the most common and recognized Major Neurocognitive Disorder (MND), Alzheimer's disease is characterized by a decline of one or more cognitive functions that progressively worsen and interfere with a person's capacity to function independently. In order to arrive at a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, these signs and symptoms cannot be attributed to another medical or psychiatric disorder.
Distinguishing Alzheimer's Disease from other conditions
A diagnostic assessment for dementia and the presence of Alzheimer's disease typically begins with the patient's history of symptoms and an evaluation of current mental status. Because the signs and symptoms of early Alzheimer's disease can be subtle and overlap other conditions, additional neuropsychological and medical testing may be required to facilitate an accurate diagnosis. It's also essential to distinguish dementia from normal age-related cognitive change.
The value of early assessment and diagnosis
With early assessment and detection, individuals with Alzheimer's disease often have a better chance of benefiting from treatment that provides a measure of symptomatic improvement and helps to slow the progression of the disease. It also allows time to make well-informed and considerate plans. Today, there are many resources and support groups available to help individuals and their families determine living situation options as well as make decisions regarding healthcare, financial, and legal matters.
A dementia assessment begins with a thorough review of an individual's history. This first step includes both patient and caregiver reporting of any cognitive impairment, behavioral changes, psychological issues, or decline in functional abilities and quality of life. Following this portion of the assessment, a series of short clinical tests will be performed. Each test only takes a few minutes and typically involves simple, short responses. While most tests are designed to elicit verbal answers, some drawing or written responses may also be required. Caregivers are typically asked to respond to specific questions as well.
Administered assessment tests include evaluations of the following areas:
Recall and memory impairments
Language and communication skills
Orientation awareness –a sense of date, time, or location
Registration capacity – the ability to recall and repeat a list of prompts
Decline in functional abilities- the degree to which one can carry out the activities of daily living
Quality of life issues
Behavioral, psychological, or mood changes
Blood tests may be ordered to check for other issues and risk factors that cause or contribute to cognitive decline, mental confusion, and other problems that resemble the symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
Diagnostic imaging and scans
As part of a comprehensive workup and assessment of dementia and the presence of Alzheimer's disease, brain scans provide useful information in several areas.
With a brain scan, healthcare providers can determine the presence of a brain tumor or whether or not a stroke has occurred. Both of these conditions may cause cognitive impairment that can be similar to that of Alzheimer's disease. An MRI, along with other types of scans, also provide detailed information on blood vessel damage and demonstrate shrinkage in specific areas of the brain that may be associated with vascular dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
At the office of Alzheimer's Integrated Wellness Group, we recognize that bringing a loved one for a dementia assessment is an emotional first step in a challenging journey. Andrea Holzner provides the skilled, supportive, and compassionate care that individuals and their families need to navigate all aspects of the disease and care.