Alzheimer’s Testing and Diagnosis

How Is Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosed?

It can be hard to recognize or admit to possible signs of Alzheimer’s. Often, it’s family or friends who notice signs first. If you or your loved one are experiencing dementia-like symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and intervention improve treatment options and quality of life. 

Testing for Alzheimer’s 

There is no definitive test for Alzheimer's disease. At Banner Health our experienced team of neurologists, neuropsychologists, geriatricians and geriatric psychiatrists use a variety of approaches and tools to help make an Alzheimer's diagnosis, monitor progression and develop a care plan.

  • Evaluation, physical exam and health history: Your doctor will review your symptoms, lifestyle, health history, medications and family medical history as well as complete a physical exam and collect blood and urine samples for testing. Your doctor also may talk to your family about changes in your thinking skills and behavior.
  • Cognitive tests: Evaluates memory, ability to solve simple problems and other thinking skills.
  • Brain imaging: The use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) to complete structural imaging of the brain.
  • Neurological exam: Evaluation of reflexes, coordination, muscle tone and strength, eye movement, speech and sensation. 
  • Genetic testing: While genetic testing is available for some genes that increase the risk of Alzheimer’s, most health professionals do not recommend it. Talk to your doctor or a genetic counselor if you may be interested in genetic testing.

A physical exam and laboratory tests can help identify the cause of symptoms. Sometimes, dementia-like symptoms are actually other conditions such as depression, sleep apnea, delirium, side effects of medications, thyroid problems and vitamin deficiencies. 

Stages of Alzheimer’s 

Alzheimer's symptoms worsen over time, while the rate at which the disease progresses varies and depends on many factors.

Mild Alzheimer's Disease (Early Stage) 

Generally, patients still function independently, including driving, working and socializing. People may begin to notice differences in behavior, memory or concentration. They may have trouble:

  • Finding the right word or name
  • Forgetting information they just read or heard
  • Losing or misplacing valuable objects
  • Performing tasks 
  • Planning or organizing
  • Remembering a new person’s name 

Moderate Alzheimer's Disease (Middle Stage)

Symptoms worsen and patients begin to require a greater level of care and supervision. This is typically the longest stage, sometimes lasting several years. The damage to the brain makes it difficult to express thoughts and perform routine tasks. They may experience symptoms such as:

  • Being unable to recall their address or telephone number
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Confusion about where they are or what day it is
  • Feeling moody or withdrawn, especially in socially or mentally challenging situations
  • Forgetfulness of events or personal history
  • Personality and behavioral changes such as suspiciousness, delusions or repetitive behavior
  • Wandering and becoming lost

Severe Alzheimer's Disease (Late Stage)

Symptoms are severe. At this point, patients become unable to respond to their environment, communicate and control movement. Their personality changes significantly. They need extensive help with daily activities. They also lose awareness of their surroundings and physical abilities such as walking, sitting or swallowing.