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Alzheimer's disease diagnosis

Visit your doctor if you think that you or someone close to you may have Alzheimer's disease.

It’s important to find out whether the symptoms that are worrying you are being caused by Alzheimer’s disease, or whether a different condition is causing them.

Your doctor may want to know about any new or worsening problems that you have noticed, such as:

  • forgetfulness
  • speech problems
  • changes in your behaviour
  • difficulty with everyday activities.

Read more about the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

Just diagnosed

Alzheimer’s disease is a physical disease and not a mental disorder.

It may take several appointments with your doctor or specialists before a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease can be confirmed.

If you are diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, your doctor may recommend that the diagnosis is shared with your family or your carers. However, this will only be done with your permission.

Options for Alzheimer's disease treatment include medications that, in some cases, may help delay the development of the disease.

The healthcare professionals who are treating you will also aim to keep you living as independently as possible, by identifying areas where you may need some assistance. This may involve assessing whether you:

  • can drive safely
  • can wash, dress and feed yourself
  • have a support network, such as family and friends
  • need any financial assistance.

Alzheimer’s Australia operates a National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500. Their website www.fightdementia.org.au offers information on all forms of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.

Similar conditions

Alzheimer's disease can be a difficult condition to diagnose because the symptoms can be similar to those of other health conditions. For example, the dementia-like symptoms of Alzheimer's disease may be confused with can be caused by:

  • nutritional deficiencies – for example where there is not enough of one of the vitamins that your body needs to function
  • hormone disorders
  • an infection
  • a brain tumour – a growth of cells in your brain
  • stroke
  • depression or anxiety.

Tests

There is no definitive test for diagnosing Alzheimer's disease, and the diagnosis is usually based on ruling out other conditions. Diagnosis usually involves a number of steps, including taking a medical history, doing a physical examination, and running tests such as blood and urine tests.

If your doctor suspects Alzheimer's disease, you may also be given a brain scan, which will look for changes in your brain. This could be:

Referral

Your doctor may refer you to a specialist to help with the diagnosis. For example, you may be referred to a:

  • clinical psychologist – a healthcare professional who specialises in the assessment and treatment of mental health conditions
  • psychiatrist – a qualified medical doctor who has further training in treating mental health conditions
  • neurologist – a specialist in treating conditions that affect the nervous system (the brain and spinal cord).

Your specialist may carry out some tests to assess your memory and thinking skills, such as:

  • spelling words backwards
  • mathematical tasks
  • drawing certain shapes.

Last reviewed: May 2017

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