Alzheimer's Disease Diagnosis

Alzheimer's disease is a complex, devastating condition that can impact every aspect of a patient's life. Optimal care, starting with a thorough evaluation, requires an integrated team approach that includes cognitive neurologists, neuropsychiatrists, neuropsychologists, and social workers.

What is Alzheimer's Disease?

Alzheimer's disease is a progressive, neurodegenerative disease that occurs when nerve cells in the brain die. The disease often results in the following behaviors:

  • Impaired memory, thinking, and behavior
  • Confusion
  • Restlessness
  • Personality and behavior changes
  • Impaired judgment
  • Impaired communication
  • Inability to follow directions
  • Language deterioration
  • Impaired thought processes that involve visual and spatial awareness
  • Emotional apathy

Alzheimer's Disease Diagnosis at Brigham and Women's Hospital

Comprehensive care of patients at the Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) Alzheimer Center begins with a thorough evaluation of a patient's Alzheimer's disease symptoms. By establishing an accurate diagnosis from the beginning and identifying all the conditions that may be contributing to a patient's impairment, we lay the groundwork for an effective treatment plan.

During the first meeting, one of our physicians will take the time to gather a comprehensive medical history from the patient. We encourage patients to bring family members to appointments and include them in this process, as they can be a vital part of the evaluation and treatment plan.

After a detailed history is obtained, a series of assessments will be performed to identify the underlying neurological condition and to determine whether other medical conditions are contributing to a patient's cognitive impairment.

These evaluations used in determining an Alzheimer's disease diagnosis may include:

  • Neurological exam – This exam assesses physical capacities, such as muscle strength, coordination, and gait (ability to walk), which can be impacted by injury to the nervous system.
  • Mental state exam – This exam assesses cognitive abilities, such as memory, attention, language, reasoning, and visual/spatial functioning. It also addresses psychological issues involving mood and behavior.
  • Neuropsychological and neuropsychiatric assessment – Depending on the history and initial evaluation, patients may be referred to other team members within our Center for more comprehensive cognitive testing or detailed neuropsychiatric assessment.
  • Brain imaging – Imaging studies, such as an MRI scan, can identify conditions, like cerebrovascular disease (strokes) or tumors, that may be contributing to memory impairment. It also can detect patterns of brain atrophy (shrinkage) that point to certain underlying neurodegenerative processes, such as Alzheimer's disease. Additionally, a PET scan, which evaluates functional activity in the brain, may be useful in distinguishing Alzheimer's disease from other neurodegenerative conditions.
  • Blood tests – Depending on what blood tests have been performed prior to a patient's visit, additional blood tests may be done to help rule out causes of brain dysfunction due to metabolic and endocrine disorders or infectious diseases.
  • Spinal fluid – Sometimes a lumbar puncture is recommended to measure abnormal proteins in the spinal fluid that are associated with Alzheimer's disease and to rule out inflammation or infection.

Neurology at Brigham and Women's Hospital

The Brigham and Women's Hospital Department of Neurology comprises a diverse yet integrated array of specialized clinical services, including inpatient and outpatient evaluation and management, second opinions for complex cases, diagnostic testing, and care for the most critically ill. This collaborative approach enables our team to provide patients with all the care they need in one location, providing a greater measure of safety, convenience, and satisfaction.

Patient- and Family-focused Care

Brigham and Women's Hospital has long been committed to not only the care of our patients but also the many other needs that they and their families have. This philosophy of patient- and family-focused care – involving systems and services that emphasize healing in a comfortable, relaxed environment – is a guiding force behind the care we provide at the Department of Neurology.

Quality of Patient Care

Brigham and Women's Hospital is committed to providing all of our patients with the safest, highest-quality, most-satisfying care possible and following established protocols that have been shown to improve patient outcomes. Our inpatient satisfaction survey, sent to patients to assess their total care experience, helps us to monitor what we are doing well and what areas may need improvement. We pride ourselves in the quality of patient care we provide and how we compare with other hospitals.

Brigham and Women's Hospital Neurology Team

The Department's multidisciplinary staff of more than 65 clinical faculty and over 350 department members strives to provide patient-focused, world-class medical care for the entire spectrum of neurological diseases. We have a strong focus on developing new treatments and cures for neurologic diseases, and we offer a variety of teaching programs that train the next generation of neurology professionals.

Contact Us

If you believe you should have an evaluation and would like to schedule an appointment with one of our Alzheimer's disease diagnosis experts, call 1-800-294-9999 to speak to one of our knowledgeable coordinators who can help to connect you to the doctor that best meets your needs, or fill out an online appointment request form.

Learn more about Brigham and Women's Hospital

For over a century, a leader in patient care, medical education and research, with expertise in virtually every specialty of medicine and surgery.

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