Alzheimer’s is a neurological disorder that falls under the dementia umbrella. The disease is progressive, meaning it worsens over time without proper treatment or management.
People over the age of 65 are at significantly higher risk for Alzheimer’s, accounting for over 95% of Canadians currently living with the disease. That number threatens to increase considerably, potentially doubling in the next 15 years due to a rapidly aging population.
Although there is no one specific factor that is known to cause Alzheimer’s, it is still possible to catch the disease early and make the appropriate adjustments.
How can Alzheimer’s be detected and diagnosed?
Ongoing research of Alzheimer’s is constantly looking for ways to identify the illness early so it can be treated and managed.
There is still not a definitive test to diagnose Alzheimer’s, but there are several tests and assessments that can indicate risk factors.
A comprehensive approach must be taken to narrow down an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.
There are some early warning signs to look out for to indicate the onset of Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Some of the most common symptoms might include:
- Memory loss
- Difficult solving problems
- Problems with simple tasks
- Language issues
- Poor judgement
- Behavioral and personality changes
- Social isolation
- General confusion
If you or a loved one are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is highly recommended to get professionally assessed as soon as possible.
Alzheimer’s Detection and Diagnosis
There are a few different ways that Alzheimer’s can be recognized, often a combination of approaches is required.
Alzheimer’s detection methods include:
- Doctor Evaluation
- Cognitive Assessment
- Brain Scan
- Blood Test
This is typically the first step towards an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. Making an appointment with your doctor, health care professional, or neurologist is a good way to get things rolling.
A doctor evaluation for Alzheimer’s will typically include:
- Medical history review
- Memory test
- Cognitive ability evaluation
- Daily tasks and routines affected by cognitive impairment
- Changes in behavior or personality
- Potential causes of dementia-like symptoms
The doctor will then make a decision as to whether or not more specialized tests are required.
For those experiencing symptoms of cognitive impairment, there are several evaluation tools that can be administered to gather more information.
Some of the cognitive assessment tools that are often used, include:
- GPCOG tool – General Practitioner Assessment of Cognition
- Screening for memory impairment
- Psychometric evaluation
- Questionnaires for family and friends to gain further insight
- Mini-Cog screening
These assessments can be both verbal and written and can be quite comprehensive to make an accurate analysis.
If these preliminary evaluations determine the need for further testing, then a brain scan is generally the next stage in the process.
Either an MRI or CT scan will be administered to inspect the brain’s physical condition. Any abnormalities can be a strong indicator of neurological disease.
For example, areas in the brain where tissues have been destroyed or eradicated may indicate the presence of Alzheimer’s. if the hippocampus is showing signs of atrophy, that is another associated symptom of Alzheimer’s.
Neither of these scans are definitively conclusive though, as they are not able to detect the microscopic changes in the brain caused by Alzheimer’s.
A new and promising approach for Alzheimer’s detection is a specialized blood test. This recently developed test looks at levels of Neurofilament Light Chain (NfL) protein present in the blood.
Early reports of this new test say that it may be able to detect risk factors for Alzheimer’s up to 16 years in advance.
Again, results of this test do not provide an official diagnosis due to other possible influences.
NfL protein is discharged into the blood stream when the axons in the white matter of the brain become damaged. This can occur as the result of Alzheimer’s, other neurological disorders, chronic inflammation, or brain injuries.
Although a compelling correlation between NfL protein and Alzheimer’s has been established, further research is still required.
Lifestyle Practices to Lower the Risk of Alzheimer’s
Studies on how lifestyle affects Alzheimer’s show that the disease can be prevented or significantly delayed by making healthy choices.
Some ways to help prevent the onset of the disease might be:
- Regular physical activity
- Healthy and nutritious diet
- Consistent social interaction
- Mind stimulating activities
- Stress management
- Regular sleep