Updated: Oct 20
Diagnosing Alzheimer's disease (AD) is a complex process that doesn't rely on a single test. When someone seeks medical attention for memory and thinking impairments, doctors first aim to rule out other potential causes like medication side effects, vitamin deficiencies, or brain tumors.
To evaluate cognitive abilities and assess the likelihood of Alzheimer's disease, physicians typically perform multiple tests. Here, I will focus on a selection of tests grouped under the acronym SELMA for simplicity:
1. Spatial Ability: This test analyzes visual information processing, such as recognizing faces, and shapes, or navigating a map to find routes between locations. It may also involve solving puzzles or copying specific designs.
2. Executive Function: These tests assess problem-solving skills, reasoning abilities, and the ability to stay focused on a given task while resisting distractions.
3. Language: Assessments in this area involve naming common objects, following instructions, or describing a picture in writing. For example, identifying a pencil or an eraser when shown an image.
4. Memory: Memory tests assess the ability to recall new information. This can involve listening or looking at information and answering questions about it immediately or after a short delay (short-term memory). Long-term memory can be tested by asking questions about events or facts from the past, such as the birthplace or the U.S. President during a specific time period.
5. Attention: Attention tests measure the ability to concentrate and sustain focus. For instance, individuals may be asked to read a sequence of numbers and then repeat back as many as they can remember.
It's important to note that these tests alone cannot definitively diagnose AD. However, when combined with medical history, brain imaging, and biological biomarkers, the results obtained from these tests provide valuable evidence for or against an AD diagnosis.
Remember, diagnosing AD requires a comprehensive approach, and these tests serve as essential components in the evaluation process.
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Domenico Praticò, MD, is the Scott Richards North Star Charitable Foundation Chair for Alzheimer’s Research, Professor and Director of the Alzheimer’s Center at Temple, and Professor of Pharmacology at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University