The Importance of Alzheimer Testing

It's a scary reality when you reach a point in your life where you have to think about Alzheimer testing, either for yourself or a loved one. While testing for Alzheimer’s Disease is relatively easy, the consequences and outcomes may not be so easy to deal with.

Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, causing problems with memory, thinking and behavior. Symptoms usually develop slowly and get worse over time, becoming severe enough to interfere with daily tasks.

At the early signs of Alzheimer's Disease, you should have your loved one take an assessment

Alzheimer's is a progressive disease in which the symptoms gradually worsen over the years. In its early stages, memory loss is mild and less noticeable, but as Alzheimer's progresses, individuals lose almost all of their ability to interact and live independently.

Those with Alzheimer's live an average of eight years after their symptoms become noticeable to others, but survival can range from four to 20 years.

Sadly, there is no proven way to prevent Alzheimer’s, though theories have been proposed, such as keeping an "active" brain throughout life. Medical treatment is available to help slow the progression of Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer testing involves an in-depth analysis of the person’s medical history, interviews, mental functioning testing, and brain scanning.

Symptoms and Stages of Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer’s disease comes on slowly, and it’s presumed that the disease begins developing in the brain ten years or more before symptoms even show.

The Alzheimer’s Association has identified seven stages of Alzheimer’s disease progression:

  • Stage 1: No impairment – The person does not experience any memory problems.
  • Stage 2:  Mild cognitive decline – This is when the earliest signs of Alzheimer’s begin showing up. The person may feel as if he or she is having memory lapses — forgetting familiar words or the location of everyday objects. However, these impairments are usually attributed to “getting older".
  • Stage 3:  Further decline / early-state Alzheimer's – Friends and family begin to notice the person having trouble coming with up the right words or names, trouble remembering where objects are, and trouble organizing daily life. During a medical interview, a doctor may be able to detect problems in memory or concentration. Again, this stage could be simply overlooked as the person getting older.
  • Stage 4: Moderate cognitive decline – At this point in the development of the person’s Alzheimer’s, they are forgetting recent events, having trouble doing math, becoming withdrawn socially, and getting worse at organization and planning. If a medical interview was conducted at this time, the signs of Alzheimer’s would most likely be clear.
  • Stage 5: Moderately severe cognitive decline / Mid-Stage Alzheimer’s – Gaps in memory and thinking are noticeable, and individuals begin to need help with day-to-day activities, such as dressing. The person may become confused about the day or season, be unable to remember important information such as phone numbers or addresses, or even where they are. However, at this point, the person probably won’t need help eating or using the bathroom.
  • Stage 6: Severe cognitive decline – At this point, the person may need help going to the bathroom and eating. The person may not remember names of loved ones and they may  have severe personality changes, such as becoming paranoid or delusional. The person probably shouldn’t be left alone as they may wander off and become lost.
  • Stage 7: Late stage Alzheimer's – In the final stage of Alzheimer’s disease, the person loses most of their ability to interact and respond to the world around them. They no longer can carry on a conversation or control movements, and they need help with nearly every part of their personal care. Swallowing becomes impaired and choking risk increases.

Alzheimer’s disease isn’t the actual direct cause of death.

Usually, infection, falls, strokes, or choking, all as a result of the person’s impaired mental state, are the cause of death.

Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

There is no single, clear-cut Alzheimer testing available, as the diagnosis comes from a series of tests, interviews, and screening tools. You can begin by taking this simple cognitive test.

A person is usually brought in for Alzheimer testing when a family member or caregiver begins to observe noticeable declines in the person’s memory, especially in areas they never had a problem with before.

First, a healthcare provider will conduct a series of interviews with the patient and their friends, family, or caregiver.

A review of the person’s past medical history, use of medications, drug and alcohol use, and a physical and neurological assessment will be done as well, to rule out other possible problems. From here, the healthcare provider can begin piecing together a history of when the mental decline began and how far it has progressed.

Next, the healthcare provider will conduct a Mini-Mental State Exam (MMSE) to get a thorough look at the functioning of the person's mental capabilities.

The MMSE asks the patient things like:

  • What day is it?
  • Identify this object (a pencil / pen, or something else very common)
  • Repeat a phrase
  • Remember three words and five minutes later, repeat three words
  • Draw a face of a clock showing all 12 numbers in the right places, and a time specified by the examiner
Screening tests for Alzheimer's Disease involve assessing the patient's cognitive functions

The MMSE has a maximum score of 30.

Any score above 25 indicates normal cognitive functioning; a score between 20 and 24 suggests mild dementia; a score between 13 and 20 suggests moderate dementia; and a score of less than 12 indicates severe dementia.

After the interview, assessments, and MMSE, the healthcare provider may feel that there is enough to diagnose or rule out Alzheimer's. However, they may decide that more Alzheimer testing is needed, and a brain-imaging MRI or CT scan will be scheduled.

A brain scan will help show areas of the brain that aren't functioning as much as other areas.

New Alzheimer testing methods have been developed to help detect Alzheimer's earlier. This new method involves a PET scan of the brain to look for amyloid-beta plaques building up in the brain.

A dye is injected into the patient that binds to these amyloid plaques, making the plaques show up fluorescent on the screen during the scan of the brain.

While it hasn't been completely proven, a high build-up of plaques in areas of the brain may be causing Alzheimer's.

Cognitive Memory Testing

If you're concerned about your memory, or showing other signs of Alzheimer's Disease, then read more about how you can get tested.

Go from Alzheimer Testing to the Health Risk Assessment menu

Learn more about health risks, and how to avoid them