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What to Expect

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When you visit the doctor, he or she will likely start by assessing your loved one's overall health. By performing a physical exam as well as ordering blood and other tests, the doctor can determine if the symptoms they are experiencing are due to Alzheimer's disease or another condition.

Then your doctor will most probably examine different aspects of thinking and memory using a variety of tests and tools designed especially for memory loss and Alzheimer's disease screening.

The Dementia Quick Screen, one such set of tests, is sensitive to cognitive decline and leaves a visual record of cognitive function for the doctor's comparison over time. It takes as little as five minutes to administer, and is made up of these three tests:

  • The animal naming test

    The animal naming test has the person name as many animals as he or she can in one minute. A score of 15 names or less is considered abnormal and 20 times more likely to occur in a person with Alzheimer's disease.
  • Three-word recall

    The tester tells the person being screened that he or she will be given 3 words to remember (e.g.: "table, apple, yellow"). He or she then proceeds with another test (like the clock drawing one), and a few minutes later, the person being tested is asked to recall the three words. The probability of Alzheimer's disease is vastly reduced if all 3 items are recalled correctly.
  • The clock drawing test

    The person being tested is asked to draw a clock so that it indicates 10 minutes after 11. He or she must include all numbers and hands in the correct positions. If the clock drawing is normal, the probability of the disease is vastly reduced.

The doctor may also wish to use more detailed screening tools, such as the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE), to evaluate memory and the ability to think clearly. Designed to help diagnose Alzheimer's disease, the MMSE evaluates a person's cognitive abilities (such as memory, language, orientation in space and time, and concentration). It's also used to measure how effective treatment has been or how the disease is progressing over time.

Questions to ask the doctor

  • What does the diagnosis mean?
  • What can be expected over time?
  • What care will my loved one need now and in the future?
  • What care is available?
  • What treatment is available and what are its risks and benefits?
  • What resources are there in the community?
  • When should we schedule another appointment?
  • Who can I contact for additional help with planning and care?