It is not unusual for any individual to experience absentmindedness or moments of confusion due to stress or temporary illness. If however, these symptoms persist and worsen it would be well to consult a physician to discuss your concerns. The sooner there is a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or that possibility is eliminated all the better. Not knowing the cause can be very stressful. This additional stress can amplify the Alzheimer’s like symptoms and make it seem like it is getting worse.
To determine if a patient has Alzheimer’s disease a doctor will first try to eliminate other possible causes of any symptoms of dementia. If there is the possibility that the cause of dementia can be corrected or improved by all means do it. Dementia is not considered a disease, but is a word used to describe conditions suffered by someone, that indicates a progressive problem with brain function.
These symptoms can be the result of a stressful illness such as diabetes or Parkinson’s. They could come about due to an accident or brain tumor. Certain medications can also produce similar symptoms as side affects. Nutritional deficiencies can be a major factor. Even being slightly dehydrated can cause major problems for some elderly people.
Some of these symptoms may include such things as an inability to concentrate. Not able to follow simple directions. Chronic (chronic meaning for a long time) forgetfulness. The person may be neglecting proper hygiene. They my get easily disoriented, asking the same things over and over again, and getting lost in what should be familiar surroundings.
Although a physician may readily be able to diagnose that a patient is suffering from dementia it is more difficult to pinpoint the cause. Hopefully we will have a simple definitive test someday. Right now it’s limited to eliminating everything else and calling it Alzheimer’s.
To begin with, the physician will want to know as much as possible about when the symptoms began, how often they occur and if they have progressively worsened. He will conduct a series of simple tests involving memory, cognitive ability and the capacity to follow a set of directions. These tests are specifically designed to test everyday skills and are not meant to be difficult.
He will also be concerned with the overall state of health of the patient. Are they aware of the problem themselves? Are they disinterested, having trouble paying attention or perhaps unusually moody?
Another area of concern will be the family medical history. This is to find out if others connected genetically to the patient have had either Alzheimer’s or a similar condition. Alzheimer’s has not yet been proven to have a genetic connection.
An overall physical exam will usually be conducted to either discover or eliminate the possibility of another disease or disorder that can cause similar symptoms. Included in this is a neurological examination that tests such aspects as reflexes, speech, balance, coordination, and eye movement.
Advancement in technology, with the use of MRI’s, also allow the doctor to investigate more thoroughly the structure of the brain. As to the shape and volume of brain tissue, and the function of the brain as to how active it is in using oxygen and sugar. Though there is no current standard for clearly defining what a brain affected by Alzheimer’s will look like, these aspects help eliminate other problems such as tumors.
Since some researchers believe that evidence of brain shrinkage. Along with reduced brain activity in certain areas may indicate the presence of Alzheimer’s. The results of MRI’s may be valuable in a diagnosis. However, there is yet no standard value that could be applied to each unique individual, that would be conclusive as to the presence of Alzheimer’s.
So the goal of the doctor in making a diagnosis is to start by eliminating as many other options as possible. Testing to eliminated other causes of dementia I feel have value. But going further to verify this disease with MRI’s is something you will have to decide.
When you are facing a disease like Alzheimer’s it is easy to want to keep testing. It is easy to let a doctor talk you into an expensive MRI. The lastest test, each more expensive that the last. If a test is suggested question what it is for and the benefit of knowing the results. Doctors have a way to adding every test they think the can get away with.
Take charge of you own health or for the person you are helping. Don’t let doctors do what ever they want. This is especially true if you are a caregiver. Again, question everything and anything you don’t understand. If you don’t understand or feel comfortable the with answer, ask again. Keep asking until you do. The decision you make will be soon forgotten by the doctor. You will have to live with it the rest of your life.
If the Alzheimer’s like symptoms turn out to actually be Alzheimer’s disease you will have more time to prepare. The person with Alzheimer’s, their family, their friends. The person or people that will be the caregivers. This usually is a slow moving disease however you will need to learn what to expect.
Please take time to have fun and laugh. To love and enjoy time together. These moments can give you joy. Please remember to see your loved one as that person even when they can’t remember.