Alzheimer’s disease is complicated to diagnose, and it shares symptoms with so many other conditions. It is why doctors use a group of criteria to conclude if a patient is suffering from possible Alzheimer’s disease, probable Alzheimer’s disease, or another kind of dementia altogether.
Physicians diagnose possible Alzheimer’s disease based on a full patient interview, covering personal and family medical history, combined with the outcome of any neurological, psychiatric, and lab tests conducted. Doctors are likely to expect Alzheimer’s disease when patient complains of a gradual progression of memory weakening, and when they are unable to find any other condition that could explain the memory loss. Doctors will be looking for disorders such as depression or hypothyroidism, neurological damage caused by stroke, or any medications that may be contributing to the loss of memory. An inability to uncover any contributory illness leads to the determination that Alzheimer’s disease is possible.
Probable Alzheimer’s disease is a next step beyond possible Alzheimer’s and means that a doctor is “relatively certain” that a patient has the disease. All the same criteria are met that determine possible Alzheimer’s; however, probable Alzheimer’s patients have continued to show deterioration. They have shown increased loss of memory coupled with the emergence of other impairments – their motor skills may be compromised, and their behavior may have changed. They may be abnormally emotional or sometimes delusional. At this stage, patients with probable Alzheimer’s disease will usually have a difficult time with their regular daily routines. A key factor in the determination of probable Alzheimer’s disease is the steady, yet progressive, nature of the symptoms.
Besides to the progression of neurological symptoms, doctors consider a few other factors in deciding that Alzheimer’s disease is probable. They look for a loss of neurological functioning in at least two exact areas. One should be memory loss; the other can be indicated by increased difficulty in solving problems, problems of perception or some other cognitive ability. These symptoms can be identified through different neurological tests. Patients with probable Alzheimer’s disease commonly are between the ages of 40-90, though some patients with Down’s syndrome develop Alzheimer’s in the 30s.
The length of time Alzheimer’s disease takes to progress from possible to probable, and through the various stages, can differ widely. Many patients make use of various medications, dietary supplements, but how can they affect the illness progress? In some patients, the deterioration can take place over as long as 25 years, and some patients reach final stage within three years. There is no obvious determining factor that can predict the length of time the disease will take to progress. The regular amount of time a patient had Alzheimer’s disease is 8 to 10 years.
Doctors use the terms possible and probable when identifying Alzheimer’s disease because there is no one clear test that can make a definite diagnosis. Only after they have ruled out all other possible causes for memory loss and cognitive deterioration do they settle on the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately the definite Alzheimer’s disease cannot diagnose until after death. An autopsy carried out by a histopathologist – a scientist who studies disease patterns in tissue – can verify the evidence of Alzheimer’s disease that can be found on a cellular level. Despite the fact that the diagnosis cannot be confirmed until a patient has passed away, a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease by a physician is considered to be 90% accurate.
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