How is Alzheimer's disease diagnosed?
Testing brain tissue for plaques and tangles is the only definitive way to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease. This is done during a brain autopsy after someone dies. While a person is still living, doctors are only able to make a diagnosis of “possible” or “probable” Alzheimer’s disease and this requires a full physical and neurological examination to rule out other causes of dementia. Screenings include blood tests to measure thyroid function and vitamin B12 levels, an MRI or CT scan of the brain to exclude other causes of dementia such as strokes, tumors, or hydrocephalus (excessive fluid build-up in the brain), and cognitive testing for memory, language, and other cognitive difficulties.
What treatments are there for Alzheimer's disease?
There is no medical treatment currently available to cure or stop the progression of Alzheimer's disease. However, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has approved four drugs that may temporarily relieve some symptoms of the disease or slow its progression. These are tacrine (Cognex®), donepezil (Aricept®), rivastigmine (Exelon®), and galantamine (Reminyl®). Many other new promising drugs are now being developed - some of which may be available within the next few years. Medication and non-drug therapies are also available to reduce some of the changes in behavior associated with Alzheimer's disease, such as depression, sleeplessness, and agitation.
Are there side-effects from the medication prescribed for Alzheimer's disease?
Generally, donepezil (Aricept®), rivastigmine (Exelon®), and galantamine (Reminyl®) are well tolerated. Symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and loose stools might occur but are usually transient. It is recommended to take Reminyl® and Exelon®with a full meal. Because of side effects associated with tacrine, including possible liver damage, it is very rarely prescribed. There is no evidence or reason to believe that combining the drugs would be any more beneficial than taking either one alone, and it is likely that combining the drugs would result in greater side effects.