There is no single diagnostic test that can determine if a person has Alzheimer’s disease. Physicians (often with the help of specialists such as neurologists, neuropsychologists, geriatricians and geriatric psychiatrists) use a variety of approaches and tools to help make a diagnosis. Although physicians can almost always determine if a person has dementia, it may be difficult to identify the exact cause. 

Medical history

During the medical workup, your health care provider will review your medical history, including psychiatric history and history of cognitive and behavioral changes. He or she will want to know about any current and past illnesses, as well as any medications you are taking. The doctor will also ask about key medical conditions affecting other family members, including whether they may have had Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias.

What to expect

Take our interactive tour to learn what to expect when being evaluated for memory and thinking problems. Take the Tour

Physical exam and diagnostic tests

During a medical workup, you can expect the physician to:

  • Ask about diet, nutrition and use of alcohol.
  • Review all medications. (Bring a list or the containers of all medicines currently being taken, including over-the-counter drugs and supplements.)
  • Check blood pressure, temperature and pulse.
  • Listen to the heart and lungs.
  • Perform other procedures to assess overall health.
  • Collect blood or urine samples for laboratory testing.

Information from a physical exam and laboratory tests can help identify health issues that can cause symptoms of dementia. Common causes of dementia-like symptoms are depression, untreated sleep apnea, delirium, side effects of medications, thyroid problems, certain vitamin deficiencies and excessive alcohol consumption. Unlike Alzheimer’s and other dementias, these conditions often may be reversed
with treatment.

Be prepared for the doctor to ask:

  • What kind of symptoms have you noticed?
  • When did they begin?
  • How often do they happen?
  • Have they gotten worse?

The doctor may also ask a family member to provide input about changes in your thinking skills and behavior. Use our Doctor Visit Checklist (PDF) to get ready for your appointment.
If the diagnosis is Alzheimer’s or another dementia, you are not alone. Join our free online community AlzConnected to share questions, experiences and practical tips via message boards and live chat rooms.

Neurological exam

During a neurological exam, the physician will closely evaluate the person for problems that may signal brain disorders other than Alzheimer’s.The doctor will look for signs of small or large strokes, Parkinson’s disease, brain tumors, fluid accumulation on the brain, and other illnesses that may impair memory or thinking.

The physician will test:

If the evaluation does not indicate Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia, but the symptoms continue to get worse over time, your doctor may need to order more tests, or you may wish to get a second opinion.

  • Reflexes.
  • Coordination, muscle tone and strength.
  • Eye movement.
  • Speech.
  • Sensation.

The neurological exam may also include a brain imaging study.

Learn more: What Is Alzheimer’s?, ​What Is Dementia?Types of Dementia.

Home screening tests for dementia

A number of dementia screening tests have been marketed directly to consumers. None of these tests have been scientifically proven to be accurate. Furthermore, the tests can have false-positive results, meaning that individuals can have results saying they have dementia when in fact they do not. This is extremely unlikely to…

This article was sourced from the Alzheimer’s Association.

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