Diagnosing Alzheimer’s and other dementia

There is no single way to test and officially diagnose Alzheimer’s or dementia. Physicians and physician teams instead use a series of steps and other factors to determine a living diagnosis. Oftentimes these steps can help physicians diagnose a person with dementia, however, they do not always explain the cause. 

Physicians combine the following tools to administer a diagnosis:

  • Reviewing medical history for both the individual and family. This includes psychiatric history and history of behavioral or cognitive changes.
  • Conducting blood tests and brain imaging to rule out other potential causes of dementia symptoms. 
  • Speaking with a family member to learn about changes in skills or behavior. 
  • Conducting cognitive tests as well as neurological examinations. 
  • Brain imaging to detect high levels of beta-amyloid, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Though Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, there are other possible causes. Different symptom patterns often indicate different causes of dementia. Physicians will use the series of tests to try and determine the single or mixed sources of dementia symptoms. The better they understand the sources, the more comprehensively they can design a treatment plan. 

Though no exact test exists for living individuals yet, understanding the process can help you know what to expect when going in to be seen by a physician regarding memory loss. If you aren’t sure where to start, we have resources designed to help you find a provider, understand your diagnosis, and decide how to move forward. Call our 24/7 Helpline for assistance at any stage: 800.272.3900.

For more from our Facts & Figures 2020 Report, click here.

Show Your Heart Some Love This American Heart Month

Taking care of your brain can take many forms- fitness, diet, and brain exercises to name a few. But managing the well being of your heart is proven to be of high importance as well. Blood pressure specifically is one area where we can have some control over our heart health. Though things like genetics may be beyond our control, there are things we can do in our day to day that can help keep the heart strong and supporting the brain.

Consider talking to your provider about your blood pressure to get an idea of where you are and what steps you might need to take in order to get it under control. Here are some management tips to help with blood pressure: 

Go easy on the salt. Salt or sodium sneaks its way into our diets in more ways than we often realize. There obvious offenders like soda and sweetened coffee, but foods like pizza, chips and deli meat also often tend to have a high sodium content. Consider getting the low sodium option at the deli counter and swapping the latte out for a traditional coffee. 

Eat your fruits and veggies. Foods high in potassium, such as bananas and leafy greens can help lower blood pressure. Have a salad with dinner or keep some bananas at work to snack on for an easy fix.

Chocolate. That’s right- a health blog is telling you to eat chocolate! A square or two of rich dark chocolate per day can promote a healthy heart. 

Get fishy. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in most types of fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring. Also available in supplement form for the seafood unfriendly. 

Put the beer down. Alcohol can increase blood pressure, so consider swapping that second drink out for water or unsweetened tea. 

Show your heart you care this American Heart Month by making some changes to your daily routine. A few simple swaps can have great effects on the future health of your heart and brain.

African Americans at Higher Risk for Alzheimer’s disease

As the world’s leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer’s care, support and research, the Alzheimer’s Association is committed to raising awareness of this fatal brain disease and its warning signs in diverse populations during Black History Month and year-round.

According to the 2019 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report, the need for strong voices and advocacy on behalf of our African American communities in the fight against Alzheimer’s has never been greater:

  • African Americans are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease as older white Americans.
  • African Americans may be more likely to be diagnosed in the later stages of the disease when individuals are more cognitively and physically impaired – and therefore, are in need of more medical care.
  • Despite their increased risk, African Americans are underrepresented in clinical trials. It is estimated that 97% of participants in industry-funded clinical trials and more than 90% in NIH-funded trials for Alzheimer’s disease are comprised of non-Hispanic whites.
Image may contain: 5 people, people sitting, possible text that says 'AFRICAN AMERICANS are 2x more likely to be DIAGNOSED with Alzheimer's or another dementia alzheimer's association'

Many people dismiss the warning signs of Alzheimer’s, believing that they are merely a part of typical aging. While there are currently no treatments to stop or even slow the progression of Alzheimer’s, early detection and diagnosis can allow for earlier use of available treatments that may provide some relief of symptoms and help maintain independence longer. Delays in diagnosis mean that African-Americans are not getting treatments when they are most likely to be effective at improving quality of life, as well as taking critical steps to educate themselves on Alzheimer’s and establish support networks.

Alzheimer’s Association 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s

  1. Memory loss that disrupts daily life. 
  2. Challenges in planning or solving problems. 
  3. Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work or at leisure. 
  4. Confusion with time or place.
  5. Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. 
  6. New problems with words in speaking or writing. 
  7. Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps. 
  8. Decreased or poor judgment. 
  9. Withdrawal from work or social activities. 
  10. Changes in mood and personality. 

The Alzheimer’s Association provides resources and materials for many diverse audiences, including information and issues that might be of concern to African-Americans. For more information, call the Alzheimer’s Association toll-free, 24/7 Helpline at 800-272-3900 or visit alz.org/Illinois.