What to Expect When Being Diagnosed

May 24, 2021

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What to Expect When Being Diagnosed

What to Expect When Being Diagnosed

Posted in : Diagnosis on by : Catherine Verner

If you are worried about your memory, it’s a good idea to go along to the doctor (which you might refer to as a GP, family doctor or primary physician depending on the country you reside in). If you are concerned about someone else’s memory, for example, a family member, it will help if you can encourage them to go to see the doctor. Mid-life and elderly life are really important times to take care of our health. So if you’re worried about any changes you have noticed in short term memory, social interactions or just finding it more difficult to manage everyday tasks, a visit to the doctor will help rule in or out any potential areas of concern. 

As with a lot of people, there can be an ongoing resistance to accept that something is not entirely as it should be, often telling ourselves things such as “most people forget things when they get older”.  Often a “crisis” event – such as forgetting where we have left our car or noticing that bills are piling up and a family member has forgotten to pay them – can trigger the need to go along for an assessment. 

Memory problems do not necessarily mean that someone has dementia. An assessment by the doctor will help rule out other causes. Delay in visiting your doctor will only result in increased uncertainty.  It is much better to take action.  If the assessment does result in a diagnosis of dementia, it will help put in place plans for the future and allow for support to be made available.  With the proper support in place, many people can continue to lead active and meaningful lives.  To better understand the diagnosis criteria for dementia, read Diagnostic Criteria for Dementia.

How to prepare for an initial doctor’s visit with concerns about memory loss

To prepare for the initial doctor’s visit, it will be helpful to bring along a family member or friend for support.  It will also be beneficial to bring a list with the following information:

  • Medications: Any prescription and over-the-counter drugs or supplements that are used. 
  • Health problems: Any recent changes in the health, as well as any past or existing medical conditions. 
  • Family History: Any history of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia within the family.
  • Behavioural, personality, or mood changes: Any recent changes in the behaviour or character of the person.
  • Changes in abilities: Any changes in the way the person performs activities of daily living.

This is necessary as the doctor will want to know things such as:

  • What are the concerning symptoms?
  • How long have they been going on for?
  • Have the symptoms changed since they started?
  • What effects are the symptoms having, for example, on the ability to cook, clean the house, do the shopping, engage in previously loved activities, wash and bathe, manage money, and drive a car?
  • What are past medical conditions?
  • Are current medical conditions being appropriately managed?

What to expect at the appointment

The doctor may carry out a physical test, organise blood to be taken, and do a urine test.  This will help to rule out any other causes. 

You may be asked to do a memory or cognitive test to check your memory and ability to think clearly.  These tests assess several different mental abilities, including:

  • short and long term memory
  • concentration and focus
  • attention span
  • awareness of time and place

Although these tests will not provide a definite diagnosis of dementia, they are helpful in highlighting any potential memory problems and difficulties with other mental abilities and hence the need for further investigation. If the doctor does feel there is a need for further research, it is likely that you will then be referred to a specialist for further testing. There is no set time guaranteed for this referral to take place and will be dependent upon resources within your area. 

If you are unclear about anything at all, it’s perfectly acceptable to ask the doctor for further clarification. Questions you may wish to ask include:

  • What is Dementia?
  • What happens now?
  • How long will it be before I am referred to a specialist?
  • How long will it be before I receive the results?
  • What changes should I anticipate?
  • Will I need to take medication, and if so, what type?
  • What action can I take to help myself?
  • What support is available locally?

Attending an assessment is the first and very important step in addressing a possible health condition. By doing this, you will receive the proper support and establish a platform to move forward in a more positive and constructive way.

References

What Happens during an Assessment of Dementia?

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