Memory problems can sneak up on you, and you might not notice early signs of them in yourself, your partner or your parent. That’s because memory changes often happen gradually, so if you interact with someone frequently you might not notice that anything is different.
“The onset of memory problems is often insidious and gradually worsens. People may often dismiss them as some normal aspect of aging. Family or friends who visit less frequently may indeed be the first to notice,” said Allan Anderson, MD, a memory and cognitive disorders specialist with Banner Alzheimer’s Institute in Tucson, AZ.
Bring up memory concerns with a primary care provider first
If you spot signs of memory concerns—or someone else points them out to you—turn to your primary care provider first. Many primary care practitioners are knowledgeable about memory problems. In some cases, they can manage care on their own. And if they think you need more specialized care, they can refer you to a neurologist or a specialty center.
You might need higher-level care if you are dealing with:
- Behavioral disturbances
- Atypical symptoms
- An unclear diagnosis
“Specialist centers typically have more comprehensive services that involve family counseling and education,” Dr. Anderson said. “Those vital services allow a person with memory problems to remain in the community and live a more joyful life with their family and friends.”
Here’s what happens once you seek care for memory problems
When you pursue evaluation for memory problems, you will likely have:
- A comprehensive visit that includes a history both from the person with memory issues and a family member or a significant other
- An exam that focuses on neurologic function
- A review of diagnostic tests
- A brief screening test to document the level of cognitive decline
- Recommendations for any remaining blood tests or diagnostic tests such as brain imaging
- An order for neuropsychological testing, if needed
At the completion of this evaluation, “you should receive a summary with provision of a diagnosis or discussion of possible diagnoses that is shared with the patient and family,” Dr. Anderson said.
Keep in mind that if your doctor diagnoses dementia, that doesn’t necessarily mean Alzheimer’s disease. “The term ‘dementia’ is an umbrella term that denotes a loss of cognitive functioning to such an extent that it interferes with a person's daily life and activities,” he said. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common type of dementia, but there are other causes, including Lewy Body dementias and frontotemporal dementias.
Comprehensive treatment plans can offer hope
Your care team should put together a treatment plan and review it with you. “Following the diagnosis should come a discussion of treatment. This should not only include specific medical interventions such as use of medications, but should focus on safety, emotional needs, education, lifestyle changes and a plan to support the caregiver. If there are behavioral issues, they should be addressed with a plan for managing them,” Dr. Anderson said.
“Patients and families are often pleased to learn there is more to provide than just medication. A comprehensive treatment plan that involves the family leaves them with a greater degree of hope,” he said.
The bottom line
If you suspect memory problems in yourself or a loved one, don’t postpone care. A thorough evaluation can help uncover what’s causing these issues. And if dementia is diagnosed, a comprehensive treatment plan with preventive strategies can help you or your loved one live a full life.
If you need to connect with a primary care provider or a memory care expert, visit bannerhealth.com to find someone who can help. For additional resources and support, visit the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute website.
Check out these other articles for more information on memory loss and dementia:
- Memory Loss: Is It Normal Aging or Dementia?
- Caregiving and Dementia: Navigating Ambiguous Loss and Grief
- Is Lewy Body Dementia Different from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s?