Misdiagnosing Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s disease is difficult to diagnose, even by well-meaning doctors. There is no blood test, no telltale brain scan. Even the brain anomalies common in Alzheimer’s patients are shared by those who have no symptoms at all. It is no surprise that researchers are finding as many as one-third of Alzheimer’s diagnoses are incorrect.

Diagnosing Alzheimer’s is about ruling out other problems, such as an undetected stroke or brain tumor, and relying on changes observed over time. Health issues such as a common urinary tract infection, a sudden change in blood pressure or depression can quickly short circuit the brain. Additional possible culprits include overmedication, reaction to medications or vitamin deficiencies. The result is acute confusion or delirium that could mistakenly be perceived as Alzheimer’s.

Some things to look for:

Delirium—This is a temporary but acute mental confusion. It involves sudden onset of symptoms such as anxiety, disorientation, tremors, hallucinations and incoherence.

Dementia—Dementia is a more permanent medical condition that disrupts brain function. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. It proceeds in stages over months or years and gradually destroys memory, reason, judgment, language and the ability to carry out simple tasks.

There is no single test that can show whether a person has Alzheimer’s. While physicians can almost always determine if a person has dementia, it may be difficult to determine the exact cause. Diagnosing Alzheimer’s requires careful medical evaluation, including:

  • A thorough medical history
  • Mental status testing
  • Tests (such as blood tests and brain imaging) to rule out other causes of dementia-like symptoms
  • An expert evaluation by an interdisciplinary team that includes a geriatrician and neurologist

If you are concerned about your cognitive skills as you get older, check out Optiminds’ brain fitness programs, designed to take brain performance to new levels by strengthening nerve cells, and improving cognitive and concentration power.

Dr. Jane Stewart at Optiminds has been helping to improve the study, reading and cognitive skills of clients of all ages. Find out more about Optiminds brain fitness programs and cognitive skills training by calling us today at (248) 496-0150 or email us at: jstewart@optimindsct.com. And be sure to visit our website at www.optimindsct.com.

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