Alzheimer's starts gradually in most cases. Initially, a person may forget recent events or have problems doing everyday things. In more advances stages there can also be:
* mental confusion
* poor judgment
* behavioral changes
* problems communicating
Although memory lapses can become more frequent as we get older, they are not by themselves a sign of Alzheimer's.
Ruling out other conditions
If a loved one starts to show signs of impaired mental functioning or dementia, it's important to seek medical help. Remember too, that while Alzheimer's is the leading cause of dementia in seniors, other conditions can result in similar symptoms.
For example, a variety of brain disorders can lead to impaired thinking. Depression can also cause symptoms of dementia in older people. Hypothyroidism, vitamin B12 deficiency, hydrocephalus, cerebral vasculitis, neurosyphilis, AIDS and stroke can also cause dementia, as can alcohol and some medications.
Because of this, a diagnosis of Alzheimer's is usually made by ruling out these other causes first, then following up with lab or psychiatric exams. At specialized centers, doctors can diagnose AD correctly up to 90 percent of the time, according to the ADEAR Center. The there are several tools that can diagnose "probable" AD:
* A complete medical history including information about the person's general health, past medical problems, and any difficulties the person has carrying out daily activities.
* Medical tests such as tests of blood, urine or spinal fluid help the doctor find other possible diseases causing the symptoms.
* Neuropsychological tests measure memory, problem solving, attention, counting and language.
* Brain scans allow the doctor to look at a picture of the brain to see if anything does not look normal.
Information from the medical history and test results help the doctor rule out other possible causes of the person's symptoms.