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Early Alzheimer's Disease
Patient and Family Guide

© Agency for Health Care Policy and Research

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Consulting the Doctor

Identifying mild cases of Alzheimer's disease can be very difficult. Your doctor will review your health and mental status, both past and present. Changes from your previous, usual mental and physical functioning are especially important.

Persons with Alzheimer's disease may not realize the severity of their condition. Your doctor will probably want to talk with family members or a close friend about their impressions of your condition.

The doctors first assessment for Alzheimer's disease should include a focused history, a physical examination, a functional status assessment, and a mental status assessment.

Medical and Family History
Questions the doctor may ask in taking your history include: How and when did problems begin? Have the symptoms progressed in steps or worsened steadily? Do they vary from day to day? How long have they lasted?

Your doctor will ask about past and current medical problems and whether other family members have had Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia.

Education and other cultural factors can make a difference in how you will do on mental ability tests. Language problems (for example, difficulty speaking English) can cause misunderstanding. Be sure to tell the doctor about any language problems that could affect your test results.

It is important to tell the doctor about all the drugs you take and how long you have been taking them. Drug reactions can cause dementia. Bring all medication bottles and pills to the appointment with your doctor.

Do you take any medications? Even over-the-counter drugs, eye drops, and alcohol can cause a decline in mental ability. Tell your doctor about all the drugs you take. Ask if the drugs are safe when taken together.

Physical Examination

A physical examination can determine whether medical problems may be causing symptoms of dementia. This is important because prompt treatment may relieve some symptoms.

Functional Status Assessment
The doctor may ask you questions about your ability to live alone. Sometimes, a family member or close friend may be asked how well you can do activities like these:

  • Write checks, pay bills, or balance a checkbook.
  • Shop alone for clothing, food, and household needs.
  • Play a game of skill or work on a hobby.
  • Heat water, make coffee, and turn off stove.
  • Pay attention to, understand, and discuss a TV show, book, or magazine.
  • Remember appointments, family occasions, holidays, and medications.
  • Travel out of the neighborhood, drive, or use public transportation.
Sometimes a family member or friend is not available to answer such questions. Then, the doctor may ask you to perform a series of tasks ("performance testing").

Mental Status Assessment
Several other tests may be used to assess your mental status. These tests usually have only a few simple questions. They test mental functioning, including orientation, attention, memory, and language skills. Age, educational level, and cultural influences may affect how you perform on mental status tests. Your doctor will consider these factors in interpreting test results.

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Disclaimer: The information provided on HealthWorld Online is for educational purposes only and IS NOT intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek professional medical advice from your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.