Talking to a Doctor About Memory
• Physicians are a crucial part of monitoring and treating memory loss.
• It's critical to understand what information is useful to physicians and how to prepare when discussing memory.
Speaking with a doctor is a critical part of discussing memory changes. We spoke in our last article about the importance of monitoring memory changes outside of the doctor’s office. But what should we expect, and how can we prepare, to discuss memory changes with a physician?
Most individuals begin their conversation about memory changes with their primary physician. Primary physicians are often a type of doctor known as a “generalist.” Generalists treat many “general medical issues”, hence the name "generalist."
It is important to ask your primary physician how familiar with and how often they diagnose and treat dementia and Alzheimer’s. It’s also important to ask when they would refer someone to a specialist or a geriatrician.
Because of the nuances and complexities of Alzheimer’s and dementia, it is important to have a physician who is very familiar with them. If a primary physician only occasionally treats Alzheimer’s or dementia, it is important to ask for a referral to a specialist or geriatrician whom is more familiar.
Geriatricians are physicians who have specialized training in the medical issues experienced by individuals over the age of 65. Geriatricians are more likely to have more experience diagnosing and treating Alzheimer’s and dementia.
During the first conversation with a physician, it is important to create a medical history and discuss questions like: "Have you noticed changes in memory? Is there a history of Alzheimer’s or dementia in your family? What is your genetic risk for Alzheimer’s? Have family or close friends noticed a change in your memory?"
The answers to these questions will create the context your physician will use to decide how to move forward. The physician may order testing, recommend speaking with a specialist, or wait and monitor symptoms.
It is unlikely that a physician will begin treatment after the first visit unless symptoms have progressed to a severe state.
Beginning the dialogue about memory loss with your physician is an important first step in preserving memory. It is important to speak with a physician as soon as symptoms are first suspected, or earlier, in the case of individuals who have a family history. Current treatments slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and dementia, but cannot stop or reverse it.
Being prepared and having this dialogue with a physician earlier, rather than later, guarantees that treatment will be as effective as possible.