Alzheimer's disease

Alzheimer’s is a disease that causes dementia. It is the most common cause of dementia, accounting for about two-thirds of cases in older people.

Diagnosing Alzheimer’s is important. It means you can get the right support and treatments. It also means you can plan for the future. If you are worried about your health, you should talk to your doctor.

If your doctor suspects Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, they may refer you to a memory clinic or another specialist clinic. Here, a doctor or nurse will run through some questions and tests with you. These are likely to include:

  • Questions about your concerns, your symptoms and how you are managing.
  • Questions about your general health and medical history.
  • Speaking with your partner or someone close to you about your symptoms.
  • A physical check-up.
  • Completing some pen-and-paper tests to check your memory, language and problem-solving skills.

You may be offered other tests, including brain scans and blood tests. Occasionally a lumbar puncture is used, where a sample of fluid is taken from the base of the spine to test for changes linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

If symptoms are mild or the cause is uncertain, the doctor may want to look for any further changes over time. For this reason, they may repeat these assessments in the future to help make the situation clearer.

Together, all of these things will help a doctor find out about any problems in memory or thinking and the likely cause.

Currently there is no definitive diagnostic test for Alzheimer’s disease. Your doctor will make a clinical judgement about the most likely diagnosis to explain your symptoms based on the information they collect from these assessments and tests.

If you are assessed for the possibility of having Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, you can choose not to know the diagnosis. You can also choose who else can know about your diagnosis.

This information was updated in May 2018 and is due for review in May 2020. It does not replace any advice that doctors, pharmacists or nurses may give you. Please contact us if you would like a version with references.