When you or a loved one is concerned about the possibility of having a dementia, getting a thorough evaluation is the next step. Knowing and understanding what is happening will help you with interventions and planning.
So, what should you do? Here is a brief list of considerations and steps to take:
Select a physician.
- Consider the physician’s knowledge and comfort regarding working with older adults.
- Consider making an appointment with a geriatrician, a physician who is specially trained to diagnose and treat older adults. Don’t necessarily avoid other doctors, including family practitioners and internists, though; they often have the same knowledge and skills.
- Understand that additional specialists may be included in the diagnostic and treatment process. They may include neurologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and other specialists as needed.
Schedule a doctor’s appointment, which will include several types of examinations.
- Physical exam, including
- medical history
- family medical history
- physical exam
- laboratory tests of blood and urine, particularly to rule out other possible causes of symptoms
- review of prescribed medications, patient-opted medications, and supplements
- Social and behavioral profile, particularly a log of recent changes and concerns as seen by the patient and/or others
- Neurological exam
- assessment of balance, reaction time, reflexes, coordination, muscle tone, speech, sensation, etc.
- ruling out of conditions and diseases, such tumors and strokes
- Mental status test that evaluates awareness, memory, problem solving, executive function
- Psychological evaluation, often to rule out other causes of dementia symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, other mental illness concerns/illnesses
- Brain scans (not routinely administered)
Ask the doctor questions to be sure you understand the diagnosis.
- Diagnosis by name
- Evidence that underlies the diagnosis: What did the doctor see in exams and tests that led to the diagnosis?
- Doctor’s assessment of the current stage of the disease
- Possible interventions, including therapies and medications
- The role of the doctor going forward
Would you like help navigating the diagnosis process? Contact Dr. Cheryl Greenberg at TheAgeCoach@gmail.com to discuss your concerns and plan the next steps in getting and understanding a diagnosis.