Top 10 Ways Doctors Try to Predict Alzheimer's

Alzheimer's remains hard to predict, but certain signs point to mental decline.

ByABC News
May 13, 2009, 6:00 PM

Jan. 17, 2010— -- Alzheimer's disease is a difficult diagnosis to make. The only way to be sure is by doing a postmortem autopsy of the brain, and even then it can remain uncertain.

But while researchers are not certain about the cause of this form of dementia that typically occurs in old age, they have noticed some associations between certain lifestyle factors and biomarkers and the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

To get the Alzheimer's Association's list of 10 early warning signs click here.

Below are nine factors that, sometimes for unknown reasons, seem to foretell a higher risk.

The risk of dementia increases with age, and so Alzheimer's is more likely to affect someone as they get older. The risk of Alzheimer's increases after age 75 and increases even further after age 80.

The 3MS exam is a series of questions and answers that helps determine cognitive function and is one of the diagnostic tests a doctor will use for Alzheimer's.

"It's more of an interview, really," said Dr. Sam Gandy, chair of the National Medical and Scientific Advisory Council of the Alzheimer's Association, noting that the test does not look at executive function or spatial ability.

A lower score on this test indicates a higher risk for Alzheimer's.

The DSST requires more abstract thought than the 3MS and is generally considered a better evaluation test in people with higher levels of cognition. It involves showing patients various digits and symbols and describing them to the examiner in their own words. Lower scores on this metric indicate a higher Alzheimer's risk.

Get Your Questions Answered at the OnCall+ Alzheimer's Center

Maintaining a healthy body weight is important in preventing Alzheimer's disease, and it seems that works both ways. Having a BMI below 18.5, the lower end of the "healthy" range, is associated with an increased risk for developing the illness.