Doctors can accurately diagnose 90 percent of Alzheimer's cases. Alzheimer's disease can be diagnosed with complete accuracy only after death, when microscopic examination of the brain reveals plaques and tangles.
To help distinguish Alzheimer's disease from other causes of memory loss, doctors typically rely on the following types of tests.
Blood tests may be done to help doctors rule out other potential causes of the dementia, such as thyroid disorders or vitamin deficiencies.
Sometimes doctors undertake a more extensive assessment of thinking and memory skills. This type of testing, which can take several hours to complete, is especially helpful in trying to detect Alzheimer's and other dementias at an early stage.
By looking at images of the brain, doctors may be able to pinpoint any visible abnormalities — such as clots, bleeding or tumors — that may be causing signs and symptoms. Positron emission tomography (PET) can reveal areas of the brain that may be less active and the density of amyloid plaques.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
An MRI machine uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field to produce detailed images of your brain. You lie on a narrow table that slides into the tube-shaped MRI machine, which makes loud banging noises during scans. The entire procedure can take an hour or more. MRIs are painless, but some people feel claustrophobic in the machine.
Computerized tomography (CT). For a CT scan, you lie on a narrow table that slides into a small chamber. X-rays pass through your body from various angles, and a computer uses this information to create cross-sectional images, or slices, of your brain. The test is painless and takes about 20 minutes.
Positron emission tomography (PET). During a PET scan, you'll be injected with a low-level radioactive material, which binds to chemicals that travel to the brain. You lie on a table while an overhead scanner tracks the radioactive material. This helps show which parts of your brain aren't functioning properly. The test is painless and can be particularly useful in distinguishing between different types of dementia.