How is Alzheimer's disease diagnosed?

Dr. Larry Lawhorne discusses how Alzheimer’s disease is diagnosed. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.


A person’s medical history and the family history can reveal clues about their loss of function. We ask detailed questions like:

  • “If he’s not interested in doing the checkbook anymore, is he not interested or do you think he’s having more problems doing the math? 
  • “If you're having to remind him that Thursday’s trash day and it’s Wednesday night, is it just because he’s being cantankerous or is it because he doesn’t remember it’s Wednesday night?” 

Once we think someone has a memory problem or a thinking problem, then we do some specific testing to get information about a person’s ability to remember and think. We use the Montreal Cognitive Assessment test or the Mini-Mental State exam. One example is when we ask about similarities. I may ask, “How are a train and a bicycle alike?” People with early dementia can describe each thing, but they won’t be able to say they are both means of transportation or a way to get from point A to point B. 

We also perform a thorough physical exam to see if the person has any deficits in strength or coordination or any signs of a past stroke. This can reveal cases of vascular dementia.

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