Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive form of dementia that gradually robs people of their memory, cognitive ability, and ability to care for themselves. Memory loss is one of the characteristic Alzheimer’s symptoms, but simply forgetting things does not indicate a person has Alzheimer’s, or indeed any type of dementia.Decision Making Impairment and Other Alzheimer’s Symptoms
Symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease develop gradually. Early symptoms may be overlooked as natural aging. Mood swings and personality changes may be at first mistaken for stress, depression, or even as tension between spouses. As time progresses, symptoms inevitably worsen.
As we age, some memory loss is natural: we may find ourselves forgetting our car keys, or forgetting the names of people we just met. Regularly forgetting more important things, such as switching off the oven, or the names of close friends, may be a warning sign of dementia.
Alzheimer’s symptoms include more than simply memory loss. Decision-making ability becomes impaired: planning, choosing, and other tasks becomes increasingly difficult, and, eventually impossible. Language skills decline as the disease progresses. People with Alzheimer’s may also undergo significant personality changes. Alzheimer’s affects all levels of cognitive function and is much more serious than simply forgetting where you put your glasses.
Blood Work and Dementia Diagnosis
Alzheimer’s is only one form of dementia. Before a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can be made, other forms of dementia must be ruled out. Dementia symptoms may be caused by medication side effects. Depression also causes dementia symptoms, and should always be ruled out during diagnosis.
Blood work and brain imaging can reveal physical causes for dementia. Blood work can rule out vitamin deficiencies and hormone imbalances, both of which can cause dementia symptoms. Blood work may also reveal kidney or liver dysfunction, two other common causes of dementia.
In addition to blood work, brain imaging may be used to make a dementia diagnosis. Brain imaging looks for physical changes in the brain, such as strokes or blood clots. A doctor may also look for changes in brain waves. An electroencephalogram (EEG) may reveal slower than normal brain waves, a possible indicator of Alzheimer’s.