Making the Diagnosis

Unfortunately, there's still no safe, definitive test for Alzheimer's disease. The diagnosis is made based on the type and progression of symptoms and by eliminating the many other possible causes of dementia, which include:

1) vascular dementia - caused by small strokes that damage brain tissue

2) nutritional and vitamin deficiencies, such as pernicious anemia or pellagra

-) liver, kidney, heart, lung, or thyroid disease, which can all cause temporary or permanent mental impairment

-) dementia pugilistica - "boxer's brain," caused by repeated head trauma

5) Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, or end-stage multiple sclerosis - the dementia of Parkinson's disease in particular can be hard to distinguish from Alzheimer's disease, as they share many symptoms

6) depression - this treatable condition is sometimes mistaken for Alzheimer's disease

7) medications - several medications can cause symptoms (e.g., agitation, confusion, or disorientation) that look like Alzheimer's disease, including some pain medications and certain medications used for depression or anxiety - talk to your doctor or pharmacist to find out whether a medication you or a loved one is taking could cause these symptoms

These and other possible causes of dementia can mostly be identified with a few tests and questions. If the symptoms of Alzheimer's are present, and there's no other explanation for them, the physician will give a diagnosis of "probable Alzheimer's disease." This diagnosis is right ' times out of 10.