Alzheimer’s Disease – How Do I Get Tested?

 In Conditions & Treatments, Counseling & Support, Senior Care
Older Couple at Sea Shore - ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE — How do I get tested?

ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE — HOW DO I GET TESTED?

Alzheimer’s disease typically begins in the part of the brain that affects learning; therefore, the most common early symptom is difficulty remembering newly-learned information. Although, having trouble with your memory does not mean you have Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia. Many health issues can cause problems with memory and thinking, including treatable conditions like depression, drug interactions, thyroid problems, excess use of alcohol or certain vitamin deficiencies. Some of these may be reversible, so if you are experiencing memory loss, it’s important to get checked by your doctor. Here are some things to keep in mind as you go through this process:

The first step in following up on symptoms is finding a doctor with whom you feel comfortable. Many people first contact their regular primary care physician about their concerns regarding memory loss. Primary care doctors often oversee the diagnostic process, but they may also refer you to a specialist. If you prefer to see someone with advanced training in dementia, ask to be referred to a health care provider who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of memory loss. If you need assistance finding a doctor with experience evaluating memory problems, our local Alzheimer’s Association chapter can help.

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Alzheimer’s Association, Coeur d’Alene

ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE — HOW DO I GET TESTED?

Alzheimer’s disease typically begins in the part of the brain that affects learning; therefore, the most common early symptom is difficulty remembering newly-learned information. Although, having trouble with your memory does not mean you have Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia. Many health issues can cause problems with memory and thinking, including treatable conditions like depression, drug interactions, thyroid problems, excess use of alcohol or certain vitamin deficiencies. Some of these may be reversible, so if you are experiencing memory loss, it’s important to get checked by your doctor. Here are some things to keep in mind as you go through this process:

The first step in following up on symptoms is finding a doctor with whom you feel comfortable. Many people first contact their regular primary care physician about their concerns regarding memory loss. Primary care doctors often oversee the diagnostic process, but they may also refer you to a specialist. If you prefer to see someone with advanced training in dementia, ask to be referred to a health care provider who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of memory loss. If you need assistance finding a doctor with experience evaluating memory problems, our local Alzheimer’s Association chapter can help.

Specialists include:

  • Neurologists, who specialize in diseases of the brain and nervous system
  • Psychiatrists, who specialize in disorders that affect mood or the way the mind works
  • Neuro-psychologists with special training in testing memory and other mental functions

Your health care provider will do a thorough review of your medical history. Your physician will want to know about any current and past illnesses, any medications you are taking, and your family medical history. We recommend bringing a list of symptoms, when they began, and how frequently they occur. It is also a good idea to take all medications to the visit, both over-the-counter and prescription. Most importantly, have a family member present to help you provide accurate input while answering the doctor’s questions honestly and to the best of your ability.

There is no single test that shows a person has Alzheimer’s. While physicians can almost always determine if a person has dementia, there are many causes and types of memory loss, making it difficult to make an exact diagnosis. Instead, a careful medical examination and testing will often be used to rule out other causes of dementia-like symptoms.

Mental status/cognitive testing is often the starting point in the evaluation of memory. These tests will measure your ability to solve simple problems and other thinking skills.

  • The Alzheimer’s Association suggests the use of three validated patient assessment tools: the General Practitioner Assessment of Cognition (GPCOG), the Memory Impairment Screen (MIS) and the Mini-CogTM.
  • Some health care providers and specialists may use more involved cognitive screening tests such as the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) or The Saint Louis University Mental Status Examination (SLUMS).

During a neurological exam, the physician will closely evaluate you for problems that may signal brain disorders other than Alzheimer’s. The physician may test reflexes, coordination, muscle tone/strength, eye movement, speech, and sensation. The neurological exam may also include a non-invasive brain imaging study, such as an MRI. These types of tests are primarily used to rule out other conditions that may cause symptoms similar to Alzheimer’s but require different treatment or are reversible.

Early testing and diagnosis is of utmost importance. Being in denial or delaying evaluation for any reason is not to your advantage. The most important thing to note is that getting an evaluation early is key to treatment of any physical disorder, including memory loss. Do not delay — you may have a condition that’s treatable and reversible!

If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact the Alzheimer’s Association’s free 24/7 helpline any time, day or night: 1-800-272-3900. You may also contact the local Chapter in Coeur d’Alene for assistance at: (208) 666-2996.

P.J. Christo, MS, RN
Outreach Coordinator – Alzheimer’s Association, Coeur d’Alene

A Chicago native, PJ Christo received a BA Education and BS Nursing from Southern Illinois University, and a MS in Physiology from the University of Arizona. PJ worked many years as an RN in hospitals, a Charge Nurse in Neurology at Letterman Army Medical Center, and ICU at the VA San Francisco. In 1997 she became employed by the Alzheimer’s Association and coordinates support groups, answers the helpline, presents educational programs, does care consultations and assists with fundraising for Alzheimer’s disease – a national epidemic and defining disease of the Baby Boomers. Her duties encompass the greater Spokane region, all of northern Idaho from Lewiston/Clarkston Valley to Montana and to the Canadian border and the Palouse. The satisfaction of helping families in her community is what keeps her uplifted, determined, and encouraged.

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