Alzheimer's Disease Diagnosis


Alzheimer's disease is a progressive condition that affects areas of the brain involved in memory, judgment, language, intelligence, and behavior. It is the most common form of mental decline, or dementia, among older adults.

An Alzheimer's disease diagnosis can be quite unsettling for patients and their families, as there is no known cure. The disease gets worse over time, causes severe mental and functional problems, and eventually results in death. However, there is much that can be done after an Alzheimer's disease diagnosis to treat Alzheimer's disease symptoms and help maintain a patient's quality of life.

The Alzheimer Center at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) is a leading provider of Alzheimer's disease diagnosis and treatment. Researchers at the Center have made groundbreaking discoveries over the past three decades, and today the Center combines programs in laboratory research, clinical trials, and patient care to advanced prevention and treatment of the disease.

In this video, Reisa Sperling, MD, provides an overview on Alzheimer's disease dementia and a new groundbreaking study, the Anti-Amyloid Treatment in Asymptomatic Alzheimer's Disease (A4) Study. The A4 Study is the first study to examine early treatment of older adults at risk for Alzheimer's disease dementia with the hope of preventing memory loss before it begins.

Getting an Alzheimer's disease diagnosis at BWH

An Alzheimer's disease diagnosis begins with comprehensive evaluations that may include:

  • Neurological exams to determine what physical capabilities might be impacted.
  • Mental state exams to assess cognitive abilities like memory, language, attention, reasoning, and visual/spatial functioning. This exam may also look at psychological issues around mood and behavior.
  • Neuropsychological and neuropsychiatric assessments – depending on the patient's history and initial evaluation, a neurologist may refer the patient to other team members for more comprehensive cognitive testing.
  • Brain imaging to identify conditions like strokes or tumors that may be affecting memory. Brain imaging can also detect brain atrophy or shrinkage, and a PET scan may be used to help distinguish an Alzheimer's disease diagnosis from diagnosis of other neurodegenerative conditions.
  • Blood tests may be used to help rule out brain dysfunction due to metabolic and endocrine disorders or infectious diseases.
  • Spinal fluid tests to measure abnormal proteins in the spinal fluid that are associated with Alzheimer's disease and to rule out infection or inflammation.

Getting treatment after an Alzheimer's disease diagnosis

While there is no known cure for Alzheimer's disease, physicians at the Alzheimer Center can recommend a treatment regimen to help maintain the patient's quality of life and slow the progress of the disease. Treatment options may include medication, education for patients and their families, and treatment of other conditions that may be affecting the patient.

Dennis Selkoe, MD, Co-director of the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases, discusses progress in the development of Alzheimer's disease treatments that target the amyloid beta protein. Read the Research Updates on Amyloid Beta and Alzheimer's Disease video transcript.

In addition to providing Alzheimer's disease diagnosis and treatment, physicians in the Department of Neurology Services may provide treatment for sleep disorders, migraine treatment, and offer an EMG test for patients experiencing unexplained muscle weakness. Patients may also consult with doctors in the neurosurgery department for conditions that include brain tumors, cerebrovascular disease, peripheral nerve damage, epilepsy and seizure, and other conditions.

Learn more about Alzheimer's Disease Diagnosis at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

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