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How can I know for sure if my mother has Alzheimer’s?

I think my mother has Alzheimer's disease. How can I know for sure?

Many conditions — pneumonia, urinary tract infection, thyroid disorders, diabetes, electrolyte imbalance, stroke and bleeding in the brain from falling, just to name a few — can mimic Alzheimer’s disease (AD), so you need to take your mother to her health care provider for an accurate diagnosis. It’s preferable for her to see a health care provider who has treated her for many years and knows her well.

Also, think through what you’ve observed about your mother and write notes to share with her health care provider. This can be very helpful as he or she sifts through your mother’s symptoms to reach a diagnosis. There are several questions you should ask yourself:

1. Do the symptoms occur only when she is tired?

2. Have the symptoms come on gradually over months or did they recently suddenly appear?

3. Is her walking impaired?

4. Is she incontinent?

5. If she is incontinent, is this new and is it constant or occasional in its occurrence?

6. Has her weight changed?

7. What medications is she taking and how often? Bring all medications to the appointment–prescription, herbals or “natural,” and over-the-counter medications.

8. Is she receiving prescriptions simultaneously from multiple doctors?

9. Is she self-medicating with “natural” herbal products or other supplements?

10. Did she fall recently, or has she sustained any other injuries?

11. Does she have bruises on the scalp, suggesting a concussion?

12. Does she have diabetes?

If, after the appropriate tests and studies are done, your mother is diagnosed with AD, there are many resources across the country that can assist caregivers or provide caregiving services. There are also medications that may slow down the progression of the disease.

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This answer was provided by Mary Anne Nelson, MD, a member of Focus on the Family’s Physicians Resource Council.

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