Iowa Geriatric Education Center Iowa Geriatric Education Center

Standardized Patient Actor Training

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Section 3 - The Alzheimer's Disease Patient


Alzheimer's disease is a progressive dementing illness caused by the development of "plaques" and "tangles" in the brain. There is no way to definitively diagnose Alzheimer's disease until an autopsy is performed after the patient's death. However, doctors can make a diagnosis of probable Alzheimer's disease based on certain criteria in the patient's functional status.

Alzheimer's disease always involves a problem with memory. It must also involve a problem with at least one of the following:

  1. Agnosia (difficulty recognizing or naming people and objects even though the senses are intact)
  2. Aphasia (difficulty using or understanding language)
  3. Apraxia (difficulty performing purposeful motor tasks, even though the physical ability to move the limbs and joints is normal)
  4. Executive function (the ability to plan and organize)

These deficits must interfere with the patient's activities of daily living. Alzheimer's disease has a gradual onset and a continuous pattern of decline.

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