Having a loved one or your primary care doctor suggest that you may have Alzheimer's disease can be incredibly frightening. The idea of losing your memory and cognitive abilities is scary, and you may also be a bit apprehensive about what you know comes next: seeking a diagnosis. Generally, you will schedule an appointment with a neurology specialist to be evaluated. Knowing what typically happens during this first diagnostic appointment can make you more comfortable with the whole process.
One of the first things your brain specialist will do is conduct a few tests to measure your degree of memory loss. These tests alone will not tell the doctor if you have Alzheimer's disease, but they will determine if you have memory loss — and that's a key symptom of Alzheimer's. You may be asked to remember certain lists of items. You may also be shown a tray of items that are then hidden, and then asked, a few minutes later, to name the items that were on the tray.
If your memory test results suggest that you do have memory loss, then your brain specialist will likely order a brain imaging test, such as an MRI. You will generally be given a script for these imaging tests, and you'll need to go have them performed off-site. However, your doctor will discuss their importance during this first visit. An MRI can allow your doctor to spot physical changes in your brain that tend to indicate Alzheimer's disease.
Your doctor will likely draw some blood for testing during this first appointment. There is no blood test that can be used to directly diagnose Alzheimer's disease. However, your doctor will want to have your blood analyzed to see your levels of thyroid hormone and various other hormones. Deficiencies in these hormones can lead to memory loss that resembles that associated with Alzheimer's, so before Alzheimer's can be diagnosed, these other issues need to be ruled out — and a blood test allows for that.
Family History Discussion
During your first appointment, your brain doctor will also want to know about your family health history. If any of your relatives have ever been diagnosed with Alzheimer's or dementia, that information is important to share.
The first visit to a brain doctor for Alzheimer's diagnosis is not as scary as you might think. You may not get a lot of answers from this first visit, but it will set the stage for a series of appointments by which your brain doctor will deduce whether you do, indeed, have Alzheimer's — and if not, what other diagnosis may better fit your signs and symptoms.
For more information about visiting a brain specialist, contact a local neurology center, like North Texas Neuroscience Center PA.