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Alzheimer’s Disease – Diagnosis, Evaluation and Treatment

Posted: March 25, 2019 at 3:42 pm

Alzheimer's disease is a condition where neurons within the brain stop functioning, lose connection with other neurons and die. It's the most common cause of dementia, a loss of brain function that can adversely impact memory, thinking, language, judgment and behavior. Alzheimer's is irreversible and progressive.

Alzheimer's is evaluated by identifying certain symptoms and ruling out other possible causes of dementia. Your doctor will likely perform a complete medical exam, including neurological, blood and brain imaging exams, such as CT, MRI or PET/CT of the head. There is no cure for Alzheimer's disease. However, your doctor may prescribe medication to slow the disease's progression and manage your symptoms.

Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia, a loss of brain function that affects memory, thinking, language, judgment and behavior. In Alzheimer's disease, large numbers of neurons stop functioning, lose connections with other neurons, and die.

Irreversible and progressive, Alzheimer's disease slowly destroys memory and thinking skills and, eventually, the ability to carry out the simplest tasks of daily living.

Although the cause of Alzheimer's disease is unknown, scientists believe that a build-up of beta-amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain are associated with the disease.

The stages of the disease typically progress from mild to moderate to severe. Symptoms usually develop slowly and gradually worsen over a number of years; however, progression and symptoms vary from person to person. The first symptom of Alzheimer's disease usually appears as forgetfulness.

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a stage between normal forgetfulness due to aging and the development of Alzheimer's disease. People with MCI have mild problems with thinking and memory that do not interfere with everyday activities. Not everyone with MCI develops Alzheimer's disease.

Other early symptoms of Alzheimer's include language problems, difficulty performing tasks that require thought, personality changes and loss of social skills.

As Alzheimer's disease progresses, symptoms may include a change in sleep patterns, depression, agitation, difficulty doing basic tasks such as reading or writing, violent behavior and poor judgment.

People with severe Alzheimer's disease are unable to recognize family members or understand language.

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No single test can determine whether a person has Alzheimer's disease. A diagnosis is made by determining the presence of certain symptoms and ruling out other causes of dementia. This involves a careful medical evaluation, including a thorough medical history, mental status testing, a physical and neurological exam, blood tests and brain imaging exams, including:

A combined PET/CT exam fuses images from a PET and CT scan together to provide detail on both the anatomy (from the CT scan) and function (from the PET scan) of organs and tissues. A PET/CT scan can help differentiate Alzheimer's disease from other types of dementia. Another nuclear medicine test called a single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) scan is also used for this purpose.

Using PET scanning and a new radiotracer called C-11 PIB, scientists have recently imaged the build-up of beta-amyloid plaques in the living brain. Radiotracers similar to C-11 PIB are currently being developed for use in the clinical setting.

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There is no cure for Alzheimer's disease. However, medications that slow the progression of the disease and manage symptoms are available.

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Alzheimer's Disease - Diagnosis, Evaluation and Treatment

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