Lapses Must Be Major to indicate Alzheimer's - Dr. Paul Donohue

QUESTION: My 78-year-old father lives by himself and manages pretty well. I am worried that he might be in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. He has become quite forgetful. Is there a test for it, and is there any medicine to treat it?

ANSWER: No test establishes the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease with certitude. A microscopic examination of the brain is the only absolute proof of the illness.

However, mental aptitude and memory tests can provide good evidence that a person's forgetfulness comes from Alzheimer's and is not the kind of forgetfulness that comes with aging.

Misplacing keys and temporarily forgetting a name are common memory lapses. When the keys are located or when the name is supplied, the person remembers clearly why he or she put the keys where they were found, or is fully aware of the person whose name was forgotten.

There are more significant memory lapses that point to Alzheimer's. If a person forgets how to perform a routine, familiar task, that is an indication that Alzheimer's might be the cause. Being unable to work a dishwasher is such an example. If a person is lost in a well-known neighborhood, that can be a sign of trouble. Poor judgment, like wearing a heavy sweater on a hot day, or difficulty in writing a check or balancing the checkbook are other Alzheimer signs.

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