6 Steps to Diagnosing Alzheimer's

Contributed by: Dennis Fortier, President, Medical Care Corporation

One of the keys to better Alzheimer's care is education. We need a more informed public that knows how and when to seek expert advice from a medical doctor. We also need the medical community to adopt a consistent approach to applying the latest standards of care for an aging public with many memory concerns, be they real concerns or false alarms.

While there is a lot of information posted online that can help educate the public, there is also lots of suspect information as well. One site that has a wealth of high quality information in this field is www.caring.com. You may have noticed one of their articles that was picked up by the general media; it described the types of information a family will want to collect and consider if they suspect the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.

The article outlines six practical steps to take when memory concerns are first present. Following these steps should keep the diagnostic process moving in a constructive direction toward a beneficial conclusion. The steps, each examined in more detail in the full article, include:
  1. Creating a record - writing down observations about the nature and frequency of any behaviors that seem problematic.
  2. Educating yourself - learning about all the possible explanations for cognitive changes to avoid jumping to an overly dire conclusion.
  3. Identifying a qualified physician - this may be the patient's usual primary care physician but it may not be. Not all M.D.'s are equal.
  4. Getting a thorough diagnostic work-up - this will include more than a medical history and a physical exam as blood work, cognitive assessment, and brain imaging may all be required.
  5. Seeing a specialist - whether the primary care physician initiates this step or not, the family should pursue such a consultation.
  6. Seeking a second opinion - as the medical community endeavors to absorb new medical knowledge in this field, there is a wide range of expertise among primary care physicians. Getting a second opinion is a prudent step.

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