Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease

By Dr Vernon Coleman and Donna Antoinette Coleman FRSA

Alzheimer’s disease can be very difficult to diagnose because some of the symptoms are very similar to that of other illnesses. To find the underlying cause of your symptoms, your doctor may refer you to a neurologist at the hospital, or he or she may make a diagnosis based on your symptoms and medical history alone.

To be 100 per cent certain that someone is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, an autopsy on the brain needs to be performed, but the next best option is for a specialist to carry out some tests to try to make an accurate diagnosis. The tests, which are performed to help diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, are usually about 90 per cent accurate. However, with the aid of state-of-the-art equipment, researchers are becoming increasingly adept at spotting the disease.

Tests for Alzheimer’s disease

When doctors suspect that a patient might have Alzheimer’s disease they are likely to perform the following tests:

1. Psychiatric examination – this is to rule out depression or any other mental illness that can mimic the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.
2. Blood tests – to detect illnesses that can cause dementia-type symptoms.
3. Mental test – to assess brain function such as: memory, the ability to do simple addition or subtraction, comprehension, etc.
4. EMG (Electromyography) – to test the large muscles in the body. (In some diseases of the brain, this activity can malfunction.)
5. Neurological examination – the nervous system is examined to look for other illnesses which might be causing similar symptoms, such as Parkinson’s disease, previous strokes, brain tumours, etc.
6. CAT scan (Computerised Axial Tomography) – takes pictures of the brain to check for any anomalies.
7. Physical examination – like the neurological and the blood tests, this examination is also used to rule out any other underlying disorders.
8. EEG (Electroencephalogram) – to assess abnormalities in brain wave activity.
9. Medical history assessment – this may involve interviews with the patient and his or her partner or with one or two members of his/her family. This is to find out how he/she is functioning with day-to-day living and to learn about any previous or any familial illnesses.
10. MRI scan (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) – is very much like the CAT scan. An MRI scan may be used if nothing shows up from the CAT scan.
11. SPECT scan (Single Photon Emission Computerised Tomography) – unlike the MRI and the CAT scanners which look at the structure of the brain, the SPECT scan looks for a change in the function of brain tissue. The person being scanned is given an injection of glucose together with a mild radioactive material. This substance, called radionuclide, circulates in the brain. The SPECT scan then measures the amount of radionuclide in various parts of brain tissue. (The brain’s main source of energy is glucose; in people suffering with Alzheimer’s, certain areas of the brain do not absorb as much glucose as would be normal.)


A diagnosis will be issued once an evaluation of the test results has been made.

It is important to get a diagnosis as early on in the disease as possible because this enables everyone concerned to plan for the future.

It is, incidentally, important to remember that most doctors still dramatically under-estimate the importance of iatrogenesis – or doctor-induced disease. It is perfectly possible for a team of doctors to perform all these tests and yet forget to find out if a patient is taking a tranquilliser or sedative which could be causing all the symptoms. (And even when the doctors know that a patient is taking prescription drugs they are likely to ignore, forget or downplay the possible side effects.)

Copyright Vernon Coleman and Donna Antoinette Coleman 2016

Taken from How to conquer health problems between ages 50 and 120 by Vernon Coleman and Donna Antoinette Coleman (now available as an ebook on Amazon).