What to do if you see signs of dementia

If you notice one or more of these signs in yourself or someone you know, the best way to help is to first have a conversation with that person (if not’s not yourself) about your concerns and second schedule an appointment with a doctor or health care provider and clearly express your concerns about memory loss and dementia.

Tips for talking to a loved one about dementia

  1. Choose a time and place when that person is likely to be at their best, not tired from a long day or in a public place surrounded by strangers.  
  2. Acknowledge that person’s concerns, don’t brush them off or assume everything is fine.
  3. Take it slow and be open to talking about it in small pieces, not all at once. 
  4. Remind yourself that everyone is doing the best they can, and understand that this conversation is not easy for anyone.
  5. Don’t assume that you know how everyone else will respond. While nothing about this is easy and negative reactions are entirely possible, many people do experience relief in having the topic out in the open instead of worrying about it quietly. 
  6. Don’t wait! Time is of the essence in a situation like this and the longer you wait the more difficult the conversation will be for everyone. 
  7. Prepare yourself by using tools and reading articles like those listed below. Others can be found easily through a web search. 
    1. Conversation Starter Kit, Institute for Healthcare Improvement
    2. Let’s Talk Brain Health, National Alliance for Caregiving/Alzheimer’s Foundation of America  
    3. 6 Tips for Talking about Memory Loss, Rush University Medical Center
    4. Gently Confronting a Loved One’s Denial, AARP

Tips for talking to a doctor about dementia

  1. Gather all relevant information, including all medications the person is taking, current and past medical problems, family history of dementia or cognitive problems. 
  2. Document the problems that are making you concerned about dementia. Be as specific as possible, and include concerns of the person you’re discussing as well as family members or friends. Write it down and bring it to the appointment. 
  3. Decide which doctor or health care provider to visit. Here are some options:
    1. Primary care physician – This is the doctor that you see once a year or when you have general problems. Your doctor may do a whole assessment and provide an answer for you, but he/she may also refer you to a specialist.  
    2. Geriatrician – These doctors are primary care physicians who also have additional training and experience with older people. 
    3. Neurologist – Doctors who specialize in issues with the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves. Neurologists can focus on specific kinds of conditions, so some are dedicated to diagnosing and treating Alzheimer’s and other kinds of dementias. 
    4. Geriatric psychiatrist – These professionals are psychiatrists with additional training in aging, so they are experienced with mental health conditions that occur frequently in older people. 
    5. Neuropsychologist – These professionals are able to give tests that determine abilities and problems of the brain. They work closely with other specialists and primary care physicians. 
  4. Be brave! Your doctor is very smart and likely well-qualified, but you are the one lives with this issue every day. Express your concerns clearly and be assertive in asking for the help that you need. If your doctor does not provide satisfactory help or answers, consider seeking another opinion.
  5. Understand what the diagnostic process looks like. A full assessment includes a medical history, physical exam, cognitive testing, test for other things like depression or anxiety, lab tests on blood or urine, and/or brain imaging tests. 
  6. Make sure that you talk to someone (doctor, nurse, social worker) about what to do after you’re either given a diagnosis or told to simply keep an eye on the symptoms. Ask any questions you may have, find out what to expect in the future, and ask who to contact with any questions or concerns that come up later. 
  7. Prepare yourself to talk to your doctor by using tools and reading articles like those listed below. Others can be found easily through a web search. 
    1. Choosing a doctor to evaluate memory and thinking problems, Alzheimer’s Association
    2. Working with the Doctor, Alzheimer’s Association
    3. Questions for Your Doctor, Alzheimer’s Association
    4. Visiting Your Doctor (includes printable Care Log, Medication Log, and Appointment Log), Alzheimer’s Association