Understanding Alzheimer’s Disease: Diagnosis & Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Dr. K on 18 March 2021

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Alzheimer's Disease: Diagnosis & Treatment

How Do I Know I Have Alzheimer’s Disease?

When you or a family exhibits symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, visit a doctor. The disease's symptoms may mimic those of a number of other diseases, including:

  • Infections
  • Interacting medications
  • Brain tumors
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Low blood sugar
  • Thyroid problems
  • Mini strokes
  • Depression

The doctor will do tests on you or a family one to determine whether you or they have Alzheimer's disease. They'll begin with a physical exam and mental status assessments, such as:

  • Memory
  • Verbal skills
  • Problem-solving
  • Thinking skills
  • Mood

They may even ask about any symptoms they've seen from other family members.

Doctors may use brain imaging tests to determine if anyone has Alzheimer's disease or another condition.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): The brain is imaged using strong magnets and radio waves in MRI. The scan will indicate whether a person has had any strokes or cancers that may be affecting their symptoms.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET): PET is a scan that utilizes tracers like flortaucipir (Tauvid) to display the plaques that form in Alzheimer's patient's brains.
Treatment

Alzheimer's syndrome has no known treatment. However, there are several medications that seem to delay its progression, especially in the early stages. Others will be able to assist with mood swings and other behavioral issues.

  • Donepezil (Aricept), galantamine (Razadyne, formerly known as Reminyl), and rivastigmine (Razadyne, formerly known as Reminyl) (Exelon). It functions by delaying the breakdown of acetylcholine, a brain chemical that lets nerve cells communicate with one another. They can help the brain function better in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease and slow the progression of symptoms.
  • Memantine (Namenda). This treatment prevents brain cells from using so much glutamate, a brain chemical that Alzheimer's-affected cells produce in excess. The medicine seems to support nerves and has fewer adverse effects than most medications. It has the potential to prevent mild to extreme symptoms from rapidly worsening. This medication can be used with donepezil, galantamine, or rivastigmine for people with mild to serious Alzheimer's disease.

  • Memantine-Donepezil (Namzaric). This medication combines donepezil and memantine. It's for people who have Alzheimer's disorder that is moderate to severe.
Other Treatments

To ease specific Alzheimer's symptoms, doctors prescribe a range of medications:

  • Antipsychotic medications including haloperidol (Haldol), olanzapine (Zyprexa), and risperidone can be used to treat paranoia, confusion, hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or sensing objects that aren't there), and aggressive behavior (Risperdal).
  • Antidepressants include fluoxetine (Prozac), paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft), and venlafaxine (Effexor).
  • Insomnia can be treated with sleep medications.
  • Agitation is treated with anti-anxiety medications such as alprazolam (Xanax), buspirone (BuSpar), lorazepam (Ativan), and oxazepam (Serax).

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