How Doctors Diagnose Alzheimer's Disease

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Was this helpful?
Smiling doctor

If problems with memory and thinking have you worried about Alzheimer’s disease, it’s time to see your doctor. Don’t delay—early diagnosis means a better chance to benefit from treatment. 

To find out whether you have Alzheimer’s disease, your primary care doctor may evaluate you, or he or she may refer you to a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis of the condition. There is no single test for Alzheimer’s disease. Instead, your doctor may conduct a thorough exam, perform additional tests to check your brain and mental function, or perhaps even speak with a family member or friend about your symptoms. Here’s an overview of what might happen at your doctor visit.

Medical Evaluation 

Many health conditions can cause problems with memory and thinking, including diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and stroke. So to make sure there isn’t something else causing your symptoms, your doctor may conduct a general exam and a neurological exam. He or she may:

  • Listen to your heart and lungs
  • Measure your blood pressure, temperature, and pulse
  • Take blood or urine samples
  • Test your reflexes, eye movement, speech, sense of touch, and muscle strength

You should also be prepared to answer questions about your current condition and health history, including:

  • Do you have any health problems now? 
  • What illnesses have you had in the past?
  • What health problems have family members had? Has anyone in your family had Alzheimer’s disease?
  • What are your symptoms?
  • When did your symptoms start?
  • How often do your symptoms occur?
  • Have your symptoms gotten worse?
  • How is your mood?
  • What medicines do you take including over-the-counter drugs and dietary supplements? (It may be helpful to bring a list with you.) 
  • Do you drink alcohol?
  • How is your diet?

Mental Function Tests

Your doctor may give you two mental function tests to assess your memory and ability to solve simple problems. In the Mini–Mental State Exam, you will be asked a series of questions geared toward your everyday mental skills. In the Mini-Cog, you will be asked to remember and repeat the names of three common objects and to draw a clock face with a specific time showing. The results of these tests can help determine whether more testing is needed. 

Brain Scans

Finally, people who are evaluated for Alzheimer’s disease often have an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT  (computed tomography) scan of their brains. Your doctor may recommend these scans to check for other brain problems that could be causing your symptoms, such as stroke or a tumor.

Was this helpful?
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Jul 30
View All Alzheimer's Disease Articles
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. About Alzheimer’s disease: diagnosis. National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health.

  2. Diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Alzheimer’s Association.

  3. Tests for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Alzheimer’s Association.