Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive and irreversible disease that attacks the brain cells and impairs a person’s cognitive functions, including their ability to remember and their ability to perform physical and mental tasks. Alzheimer’s occurs in stages, with impairment becoming progressively worse over time. Sometimes, the disease progresses quickly, but often, it takes years for the patient to progress from one stage to another. The disease begins with structural changes in the brain that can occur years before any noticeable symptoms develop. In this “preclinical” stage, proteins build up in the brain and tangled clumps of fibers form, interfering not only with nerve transmissions associated with physical and mental processes but also preventing the normal flow of oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood, starving brain cells and causing the brain to atrophy over time.
Although Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia in the U.S., it’s not the only cause. While there are no tests to definitively diagnose Alzheimer’s disease (except with postmortem brain tissue evaluation), it can be diagnosed differentially - that is, by ruling out other possible causes of symptoms. Dr. McKenzie will use several techniques to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease, including:
Dr. McKenzie also will ask family members about any symptoms they may have noticed, specifically with a patient’s memory or their ability to perform simple tasks and daily activities, or changes in behavior or personality. These tests usually will be performed over time to monitor any changes to diagnose the disease and determine how quickly it’s progressing.
Although there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease, there are medications available that may help slow the progression of the disease in some people, helping them perform functions of daily living for a longer period. Diagnosis also helps patients and their families plan for the future, including looking into options for medical care, taking care of legal matters like powers of attorney, making modifications to the patient’s home, looking into long-term living arrangements and assisted-living health facilities, or setting up home health care services. Following a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. McKenzie will provide information about medications, support services, and other options that can help patients and their families manage the disease and cope with its signs and symptoms, especially as the disease progresses.
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