Choosing the right doctor is an important step in your treatment plan when you are living with dementia. Following this guide will help you find the right doctors as you learn to navigate dementia.
What is Dementia?
Dementia is when you experience cognitive changes that affect your memory, thinking, and reasoning. These changes affect your day-to-day life and are not the normal signs of aging. If you or a loved one is experiencing memory concerns, it is important to consult your doctor sooner; with the concerns and symptoms, you observe. After a complete medical evaluation by your healthcare provider, they will determine if you are living with dementia.
Getting a dementia diagnosis can help you and your family prepare for the future and help you find the support team needed to help you manage dementia.
Dementia is a term used when individuals are experiencing symptoms that affect their day-to-day life. These symptoms affect their memory, communication, and thinking. It usually develops in individuals above 65 and is known as a “Late-life disease.” It can be seen in younger individuals as well, but less prevalent. Dementia is not a normal part of aging.
Dementia happens to a person when healthy neurons and nerve cells in the brain stop working due to damages or other health conditions. This causes healthy neurons to die and then causes further damage to the brain. While it is common for all individuals to lose some neurons, those living with dementia experience more of a less than normal.
Dementia is not a specific disease but a range of different symptoms that are associated with memory and thinking problems. Consulting a doctor in the early stage of dementia can allow you to get treatment started and start planning for the future.
When you are being diagnosed with dementia, it is important to know which type of dementia you have to get the proper treatment for. Some of the most common types of dementia are:
Finding a Doctor to Evaluate you for Dementia
It is estimated that a qualified physician can diagnose Alzheimer’s disease with a 90% accuracy. The first step in determining if you are living with Alzheimer’s Disease is to find a healthcare provider that you feel comfortable with.
If you are experiencing concerns related to your memory, make sure you mention this to your primary care physician. Be sure that you bring up and talk with your healthcare provider about your symptoms and concerns. Understand how familiar they are with dementia and if they think you should see a specialist discuss your cognitive problems.
What Types of Doctors Evaluate Memory and Thinking Problems?
It is important to consult with the right doctor if you think you may have dementia. Here is a list of doctors you may want to consider making an appointment with to evaluate your memory and thinking impairments.
#1. Primary Care Doctor
Those who may be living with dementia will want to make an appointment with their primary care doctor. Here they will discuss your memory and thinking symptoms that you are experiencing. They may perform an initial assessment and a full evaluation at this appointment.
When you are referred to a specialist, they will help evaluate your memory and thinking. They will confirm a dementia diagnosis or diagnose you with one if you are living with dementia.
A Geriatrician is a primary care doctor who has additional medical training in disease and other conditions common in elderly individuals. These doctors can help assess if you are living with dementia.
#4. Geriatric Psychiatrists
Geriatric Psychiatrists are trained in psychiatry with additional training in the mental health of the elderly. They can help rule out other diseases that may contribute to memory loss, depression and treat dementia-related behaviors.
Neurologists are trained in nervous system disorders. This includes the brain, spinal cord, and other nerves.
Neurologists undergo special training in Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia. If you are referred to a Neurologist, confirm that they have experience treating individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease or different types of dementia.
Neuropsychologists administer various tests that help evaluate thinking, memory, attention, language, and problem-solving skills. These specialists work closely with other specialists and your primary care doctor during the diagnosing process.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Dementia?
The symptoms of dementia vary based on the stage of dementia you are in as well as the type of dementia you are living with. Some symptoms may include:
- Memory impairment
- Asking questions multiple times
- Changes in mood and personality
- Behavior issues
- Trouble sleeping
Preparing to See your Doctor
To get the most out of your appointment with your doctor, prepare yourself before the appointment. This includes recording questions, observing symptoms, and knowing when to expect the meeting.
#1. What to bring with you to your first visit?
When you meet with your healthcare provider for the first time, there are some things you will want to be sure to bring with you.
- A list of symptoms you are experiencing: This includes changes in your health, changes in mood, memory, and behavior. Try to be as specific as possible.
- Current and past medical problems: Include any family history of memory problems.
- Current medications: Include prescription, over-the-counter medications, and supplements that you are currently taking.
- List of questions that you have.
#2. What Questions Should I Ask my Healthcare Provider?
It is normal to have lots of questions that you want to ask your doctor. It is also common to forget to ask them when you are sitting in the doctor’s office. It is best to write your questions down before your visits so that you can remember them and you can discuss your concerns with your doctor. Some questions you may want to ask are the following:
- What tests will be performed?
- Are there any side effects from the tests?
- What can I expect from each test?
- How long will the tests take?
- When should we expect to know the results?
- What is causing my symptoms?
- Is it treatable/ reversible?
- Will medication help?
- Will this get worse?
#3. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
When you are preparing to meet with your healthcare provider, you may want to think about some of the questions your doctor may ask you. It is important to be as honest as possible with these answers.
- What symptoms are you experiencing?
- When did they start?
- Is there anything that makes them better?
- Does anything make them worse?
- Are they progressively getting worse or staying the same?
- Have you had to stop doing things you love or day-to-day activities?
- Is there a family history of genetic dementia? These include Huntington’s or Parkinson’s?
- What medications are you currently taking?
- Have you had significant life changes or experienced more stress than usual?
How is a Diagnosis Made?
There is not a single test that can diagnose dementia. Through a combination of different tests and assessments, your doctor can confirm if you are living with dementia. The following assessments may be ordered:
#1. Medical History
Your healthcare provider will conduct a medical history and physical exam. They may ask you or a loved one about your current symptoms. And inquire if there are changes to your day-to-day life.
You will want to be sure to bring a list of all your medications (prescription, over-the-counter, and supplements). This helps eliminate the concern if you are experiencing memory loss due to overmedication or a bad drug reaction.
#2. Mental Status Exam / Cognitive Testing
Your doctor may order cognitive testing. There are four main types of cognitive testing that your doctor may order. This helps measure your mental functions. The tests may choose from are as follows:
- Montreal Cognitive Assessment
- Mini-mental state exam
They may also request Informant Tools, a series of questions that are asked to a close friend or family. These include:
- Short Informant Questionnaire on Cognitive Decline in the Elderly (IQCODE)
#3. Laboratory Tests
Your healthcare provider will order a series of lab tests to help diagnose dementia. While these tests do not confirm dementia, they will rule out many other conditions that may be causing your memory impairment. The tests that may be ordered include the following.
- Complete Blood Count (CBC)
- Comprehensive Metabolic Panel
- Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH)
- Vitamin B12
- Rapid Plasma Reagin
- Human Immunodeficiency Virus
#4. Brain Imaging
Your healthcare provider may order a brain imaging test once other potential diagnoses have been ruled out. They may order one of the following:
- MRI Scan
- CT Scan
- SPECT Scan
- PET Scan
After completing these assessments, you will meet with your doctor to discuss these results. They will determine if you are living with dementia or if another medical condition is causing cognitive issues.
Working with your Doctor to get the Best Care
Once you are diagnosed with dementia, it is important to get the very best care possible/ Communication is one of the most critical factors for good care.
Your healthcare provider and family will work together to create a treatment plan for meeting the needs of the individual living with dementia. As time passes and your dementia progresses, needs will change, and things will need to be adapted.
Be prepared to see your doctor regularly; this will be about every six months. If there are sudden changes in behavior, you will want to see your doctor as soon as possible.
Treatment of Dementia
There is no cure for dementia. There are treatment options that can help your symptoms be more manageable. In case you have dementia, you need to work closely with your doctor to review your treatment plan. You should talk about available treatments.
The following treatment may be available:
- Medications:- Although there is no medication that treats dementia, there are medications available that can help manage symptoms.
- Therapies:- Therapy is a great non-drug approach for treatment. An occupational therapist can show you how to make your home safer. They can also help you cope with behaviors caused by dementia. If you are a caregiver of a loved one living with dementia and live in Texas, contact me, your Dementia Therapist!
- Clinical Trials:- Clinical trials may be available to test new treatments, interventions or help manage symptoms. Make it a habit to ask your doctor during your follow-up appointments if you are a candidate for any upcoming clinical trials if you are interested.
- Lifestyle changes:- Making lifestyle changes and modifications can help manage treatments. Some things you can do include:
- Reduce clutter
- Install monitoring systems
- Hide objects that are not safe
- Participate in activities
- Establish routines
- Keep a posted calendar
- Create a plan
Key Points of Working With Your Doctor
- It is important to choose the right doctor for you.
- There are many different types of dementia. It is important to see a doctor who has experience treating the type of dementia you are living with.
- Different doctors can help evaluate your memory and thinking problems. Typically, you will first visit with your PCP or primary care doctor. Other specialists that may be involved include Geriatrician, Geriatric Psychiatrists, Neurologists, and Neuropsychologists.
- Symptoms of dementia may vary based on the type of dementia that you are living with.
- You want to be prepared with your appointment with your doctor. Record your current symptoms, medications, and questions that you may have.
- Understand how a diagnosis is made. No single test can diagnose dementia. These assessments include medical history, cognitive testing, lab tests, and brain imaging.
- Know the treatments that are available to help manage your symptoms.
- Know what to expect at your follow-up visits with your doctor.