If you suspect that your loved one has dementia, knowing which direction to take can be difficult. You may wonder if you should go to your family physician first, or if should you go to a dementia specialist for a diagnosis.
Primary Care Physician First (Early Diagnosis Matters)
Contact your primary care physician if you are seeing signs of cognitive decline in your loved one. Most primary care physicians can perform an initial assessment and evaluation. It is important to get this diagnosis as soon as possible. Early intervention can slow down dementia’s rate of progression. The patient’s history of medical records that are on file provides a valuable baseline that can help the physician determine if your loved one is experiencing normal signs of aging or symptoms of dementia.
The physician will look for common signs of dementia (symptoms that you will also notice in the early stages):
- Memory loss
- Difficulty completing familiar tasks
- Trouble following or joining a conversation
- Mood changes
- Visual changes
Related article: 8 Red Flags of Dementia to Look for When Visit Aging Parents
The doctor will rule out other medical conditions that might be causing symptoms, such as thyroid disorders, stroke, and vitamin deficiencies. He or she will also check for emotional problems such as stress, anxiety, or depression. Once an initial dementia diagnosis is made by the physician, they may refer your loved one to a specialist to confirm the diagnosis and to determine the type of dementia. It is difficult to make a diagnosis of dementia in a single office visit. An accurate diagnosis requires multiple visits and tests.
You do not have to start with a specialist to obtain a dementia diagnosis. But we do recommend that you get a second opinion from a specialist. Dementia can be difficult to diagnose.
Specialists in the field of dementia include:
A geriatrician is a primary care physician who received additional training and specializes in treating conditions and managing health care for older adults. Geriatricians often work with the family physician in treating aged-related and dementia health issues.
A geriatric psychiatrist specializes in managing the mental, emotional, and behavioral conditions of older adults. They focus on treating specific symptoms and behaviors related to aging and dementia, such as anxiety, agitation, paranoia, depression, hallucinations, and anger.
The primary care doctor may refer your loved one to a neurologist for additional testing. A neurologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the testing of the nervous system and the brain, including interpreting brain scans. This testing can rule out other conditions that can cause dementia-like symptoms. These tests also provide a reference point for the treatment of symptoms and ongoing monitoring if a dementia diagnosis is made.
Psychologists who specialize in providing counseling and therapy sessions to older people are called geropsychologists. A geropsychologist focuses on practices that are relevant to the emotional health of older people who are dealing with diseases and conditions, including dementia. They also work with families of elderly loved ones that suffer from various diseases and conditions.
Geriatricians, geriatric psychiatrists, and neuropsychologists can diagnose dementia, and each of these specialist types, including neuropsychologists, often work jointly with the patient’s primary care physician.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
We believe that families matter. The best ideas come from a family approach. And when it comes to a dementia diagnosis, we believe that you know your loved one better than anyone else. Your questions and observations can be key to your loved one’s health care and well-being.
Consider asking the primary care physician these questions:
- How familiar are you with diagnosing dementia?
- Are there circumstances in which you would refer my loved one to a specialist?
- What diagnostic testing do you recommend?
After a diagnosis of dementia, consider asking these questions:
- Is it treatable?
- Is it reversible?
- Will medication help? What side effects will it have?
- Will it get worse? What does the timeline (i.e., progression) look like?
- What additional and future tests do you recommend?
- Can you recommend specialists to help manage and monitor the condition?
Selecting a Dementia Health Care Specialist
Sometimes, we desire more than a family physician for our loved one’s dementia diagnosis and care. If you are in the Round Rock, Texas area, here are some dementia specialist options (and if you do not reside in this area, use these options as guidelines when searching for specialists in your area):
The Memory Disorders Clinic at CNTC (Central Texas Neurology Consultants) has a team of physicians on-site in Round Rock, Texas who specialize in diagnosing and treating memory disorders. Clinics that serve dementia patients often staff a crew of memory care specialists, including geriatricians, geriatric psychiatrists, neurologists, and geropsychologists.
Elizabeth L Peckham, DO is a neurologist in Round Rock, Texas, and is affiliated with St David’s Medical Center. Her specialty is neurology. “Neurologists diagnose and treat disorders of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerves, muscles, and the involuntary nervous system that controls the heart, lungs and other organs.” Dr. Peckham includes dementia in the conditions that she provides treatment for.
Rakesh Kathpalia, MD is a geriatrician affiliated with the Baylor Scott & White Clinic located in Round Rock, Texas. Dr. Kathpalia is certified in Geriatric Medicine by the American Board of Internal Med/Geriatric Medicine.
Karen Anne Valdez, DO is a geriatric psychiatrist affiliated with the Baylor Scott & White Clinic located in Georgetown, Texas (near Round Rock). Dr. Valdez is certified in Geriatric Psychiatry by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology/Geriatric Psychiatry.
Visit our blog Round Rock Elderly Care Organizations for additional dementia care options that are located in our community, including the Alzheimer’s Association Capital of Texas Chapter.
You Aren’t Alone with This
If you are seeing signs of dementia, reach out for help. Prompt your loved one to schedule an appointment with their physician and offer to go with them. Consider reaching out to the elderly care organizations available as a resource in your community. If none are available in your area, the Alzheimer’s Association provides a 24/7 helpline (800-272-3900) that can steer you toward local programs and services.
We know that you want the best life for your loved one, and if that includes memory care, know that this is all we do…and we are really good at it.
If you are in or plan to be in the Round Rock or North Austin, Texas area, we would love to help you with your questions! Contact us online or schedule a virtual tour online or call us at 512-399-5080.