You may decide you want to talk to your doctor about memory loss or other cognitive changes, or you may seek care at the urging of a family member who arranges your appointment and goes with you. You'll probably start by seeing your family doctor or general practitioner, who may refer you to a neurologist, psychiatrist, neuropsychologist or other specialist for further evaluation.
Because appointments can be brief and there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to prepare ahead of time. Here are some suggestions to help you get ready for your appointment and understand what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
- Be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions. When you make your appointment, ask if you need to fast for blood work or if you need to do anything else to prepare for diagnostic tests.
Write down all of your symptoms. Your doctor will want to know details about what's causing your concern about your memory or mental function. Make notes about some of the most important examples of forgetfulness or other lapses you want to mention. Do you have trouble finding your keys, or have you found your keys in the freezer?
Try to remember when you first started to suspect that something might be wrong. If you think your difficulties are getting worse, be ready to explain why.
- Take along a family member or friend, if possible. Corroboration from a relative or trusted friend can play a key role in confirming that your difficulties are apparent to others. Having someone along can also help you recall the information provided during your appointment.
- Make a list of your other medical conditions. Your doctor will want to know if you're currently being treated for diabetes, heart disease, past strokes or any other conditions.
- Make a list of all your medications, including over-the-counter drugs and vitamins or supplements that you take.
Questions to ask your doctor
Because time with your doctor is limited, writing down a list of questions will help you make the most of your appointment. If you're seeing your doctor regarding concerns about Alzheimer's disease, some questions to ask include:
- Is my degree of memory change abnormal for my age and background?
- If so, do you think my symptoms are due to Alzheimer's disease?
- What tests do I need?
- If my diagnosis is Alzheimer's disease, will you or another doctor manage my ongoing care? Can you help me get a plan in place for ongoing care?
- What treatments or programs are available? How effective are these treatments?
- Will medications help? What are the possible side effects?
- Is there a generic alternative to the medicine you're prescribing?
- Are there any clinical trials of experimental treatments I should consider?
- How will my disease likely progress over time?
- Will my new symptoms affect how I manage my other health conditions?
- Do you have any brochures or other printed material I can take home with me? What websites and support resources do you recommend?
In addition to the questions you've prepared ahead of time, don't hesitate to ask your doctor to clarify anything you don't understand.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is also likely to have questions for you. Being ready to respond may free up time to focus on any points you want to talk about in-depth. Your doctor may ask:
June 17, 2014
- What kinds of memory difficulties and mental lapses are you having? When did you first notice them?
- Are they steadily getting worse, or are they sometimes better and sometimes worse?
- Have you stopped doing certain activities, like managing finances or shopping because these activities were too mentally challenging?
- Do you feel any sadder or more anxious than usual?
- Have you gotten lost lately on a driving route or in a situation that's usually familiar to you?
- Has anyone expressed unusual concern about your driving?
- Have you noticed any changes in the way you tend to react to people or events?
- Do you have more energy than usual, less than usual or about the same?
- What medications are you taking? Are you taking any vitamins or supplements?
- Do you drink alcohol? How much?
- What other medical conditions are you being treated for?
- Have you noticed any trembling or trouble walking?
- Are you having any trouble remembering your medical appointments or when to take your medication?
- Have you had your hearing and vision tested recently?
- Did anyone else in your family ever have memory trouble? Was anyone ever diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease or dementia?
- Goldman L, et al. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2012. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed April 8, 2014.
- Alzheimer's disease fact sheet. National Institute on Aging. http://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/alzheimers-disease-fact-sheet. Accessed April 8, 2014.
- Longo DL, et al. Harrison's Online. 18th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=4. Accessed April 8, 2014.
- Halter JB, et al. Hazzard's Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology. 6th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2009. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=540. Accessed April 8, 2014.
- Leal SL, et al. Perturbations of neural circuitry in aging, mild cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer's disease. Ageing Research Reviews. 2013;12:823.
- Wright CB. Etiology, clinical manifestations, and diagnosis of vascular dementia. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed April 8, 2014.
- Papadakis MA, ed., et al. Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 2014. 53rd ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2014. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=1. Accessed April 8, 2014.
- Grabowski TJ. Clinical manifestations and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed April 8, 2014.
- Caring for a person with Alzheimer's disease. National Institute on Aging. http://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/publication/caring-person-alzheimers-disease/about-guide. Accessed April 8, 2014.
- Alternative treatments. Alzheimer's Association. http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_alternative_treatments.asp. Accessed April 8, 2014.
- Alzheimer's disease at a glance. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. http://nccam.nih.gov/health/alzheimer/ataglance. Accessed April 8, 2014.
- Smith GE (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. April 19, 2014.
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