Making a clinical diagnosis of AD is a positive process and not one of exclusion. The most valuable diagnostic assessment is a careful informant history, paying attention to the pattern and timing of onset and progression. In the research context, a family history interview conducted by telephone provides a degree of accuracy compatible with a full clinical assessment. kB3.0) Detailed semistructured family informant diagnostic schedules are available, such as CAMDEX.(31) A history should be taken for the presence of risk factors for AD (e.g. a positive family history) and vascular and other risk factors (e.g. hypertension and head injury). Taking a family history for late-onset disorders such as AD requires special attention. Because of attrition due to other illness, many elderly people have had too few relatives reach the age of onset of dementia to make a pedigree analysis informative. The ages at death of all relatives should be established, together with cause of death and the presence or absence of dementia or memory problems in late life. The term 'sporadic' dementia should be avoided, and is misleading when applied to an individual with a dementia where one parent died young and where no sibling reached the age of 65 to 70 years. The history should also screen for the presence of other illnesses sufficient to cause a dementia, and for systemic health in general. The presence of any significant physical illness, from chronic pain to delirium, may significantly alter cognitive abilities in the elderly, and especially so in those with AD.

A careful history should also establish the presence of any behavioural disturbance that has occurred. The relationship of aggression, wandering, agitation, or other behaviours to care tasks and other recent changes in the provision of the care package should be established. As the mainstay of the management of behavioural disturbance in all dementias is behavioural, establishing the antecedents to behaviour is an absolute prerequisite to effective management.

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