Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease

Even though Alzheimer’s disease is so common, it can go unrecognized or misdiagnosed in its early stages. An early diagnosis is important as both patient and family worry a great deal and aware of the fact that there are medications that can slow down its progression, they are keen to start on them as soon as possible. I have been told that a definitive diagnostic test cannot be done until after the death of a patient with Alzheimer’s disease, as only then can the brain be examined for microscopic changes. Frankly, after my husband’s death, I was unable to bring myself about to donate his brain to science, even though I’d given it a great deal of thought beforehand.

When our geriatric neurologist realized that my husband had a memory problem – and it took quite a while as he was so good at covering up – she sent us for a series of questions and tests known as MMSE.

Oriention to time: The tester asked my husband what the date was.

Registration: She told him that she was going to say three words and expected him to repeat them. The words she chose, at random, i think, were grape, chair and dollar.

Naming: She pointed to objects in the room and asked him to name them one by one.

Reading: She asked him to read a sentence and act it out, like: ‘Give me that book please,’ ‘Please sit on the other chair,’ etc.

A few months later, they re-tested him at my request, even though it was obvious that they were loath to do so, as his condition had deteriorated. They’d been unable to guage a change in him due to his ability to concentrate and cover up. This time, they asked him to draw the face of a clock showing all 12 digits in the correct places and the hands of the clock to show the time, which was then 9:15. Then she mentioned five words, chatted to him about general topics, and then asked him to repeat the words. He was unable to repeat more than one so he asked her to repeat the whole process as he told her he could do better than that. She agreed but the results were the same.

Only when the neurologist saw the results, I felt it was the first time that she started to take note of what I had been saying. Until then, I had been given very little time to say anything during our sessions.


1 thought on “Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease

  1. CJ

    It is indeed a hard decision to make: donating the brain to science. However, do know that declining did not keep science from learning or moving on in their research for this disease. I hope that you do not regret your decision. It is a personal one and yours to make for your reasons alone.
    In my work as an embalmer, I have had requests from families to make arrangements to donate the brains of loved ones for various neurological diseases that were poorly understood. I must confess, since it was I who was the one required to be the one to remove the organ, I never liked handling the brain. It is indeed the most delicate organ in our bodies, in my estimation. My father was diagnosed with a very rare brain tumor in his 50s and underwent several operations, which cured his condition. A few years after this miraculous recovery he was run down by a drugged driver in an SUV in the crosswalk by his home—it left him severely brain-injured and paralyzed for the remainder of his life. By then I was a full-fledged funeral professional and embalmer, also working with pathologists when required. I always had trouble handling the brain after Dad’s accident. It is a most wondrous but delicate organ, full of mystery but more fragile than a soaked angel-food cake. I pray that more research and medical treatment will become available for brain-injured people and especial for those who have Alzheimer’s and cognitive disorders. I also have a baby grandson who is 2 who has a very rare (1:50,000) form of epilepsy plus Cerebral Palsy. This has been my heartbreak. I have begged God to take me, to replace his life with mine to give him health. It will take a miracle to fix little Nathan. There is no medical cause or reason for why this happened to him. He was born without a brain structure that connects the 2 hemispheres, and it cannot form after birth. He will likely never talk or walk, etc. But God he is loved! So let us hope that more can be done for all of these neuro problems. God bless you.


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