Information and referral

Why find out?

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease can be similar to symptoms of other conditions such as depression, thyroid or heart disease, infections, drug interactions or alcohol abuse. Finding out the cause of the symptoms can help people:

  • understand the source of the symptoms

  • get the proper care, treatment and support

  • plan for the future

Making the diagnosis

There is currently no single test that can tell if a person has Alzheimer’s disease. The diagnosis is made through a systematic assessment which eliminates other possible causes. Until the time when there is a conclusive test, doctors may continue to use the words “probable Alzheimer’s disease”. However, you should be aware that doctors making this diagnosis are accurate 80 to 90 per cent of the time.

Making the diagnosis can take time. The diagnosis can be made in a family doctor’s office, a memory clinic or a hospital. The doctor may or may not feel that the person needs to see a number of health-care professionals to help make the diagnosis. These may include a psychologist, psychiatrist, neurologist, geriatrician, nurse, social worker or occupational therapist. They will look for problems with the person’s memory, reasoning ability, language and judgment, and how these affect day-to-day function.

Preparing for the assessment

On the day of the appointment, it will be useful to have the following information on hand. Writing this information down beforehand can be helpful. Things you will be asked:

  • What symptoms have been noticed?

  • When did they first appear?

  • How have the symptoms changed over time?

  • What other medical conditions exist?

  • What medications are currently being taken (both prescription and over-the-counter)?

  • What herbal remedies and/or dietary supplements are currently being taken?

  • Is there a family history of Alzheimer’s disease or psychiatric conditions?

Things you may want to ask:
  • Which tests will be performed?

  • What is involved in the tests?

  • How long will the tests take?

  • How long will it take to learn the results?

  • How are the results communicated? Who will be involved?

The family’s role

Sometimes the person experiencing the problems will go to see her doctor. For others, the family will play a role in alerting the doctor of a problem. Tips to lend a hand:

  • Make the appointment for the person

  • Help with transportation

  • Share this brochure with other family members

  • Offer to accompany the person to appointments and tests

  • Help prepare information for the first appointment

  • Appreciate that this can be an unsettling time for the person and provide emotional support

  • Have patience; it can take a long period of time to arrive at a diagnosis

If the diagnosis is Alzheimer’s disease You may want to ask:

  • What does the diagnosis mean?

  • What can be expected over time?

  • What care will be needed and is available, now and in the future?

  • What treatment is available? What are the risks and benefits?

  • What resources are available in the community to help?

  • Are there any experimental drug trials to participate in?

  • When is the next appointment?

Last Updated: 11/30/2017