5 Tips to Prepare for a Conversation with Your Doctor About Dementia
By Julie Hayes | 06/15/2021
Suspecting that you are suffering from memory loss can feel terrifying. When there’s a chance the answer to your symptoms may be “dementia,” it may seem tempting to avoid even asking the question.
However, a missed or delayed opportunity to diagnosis dementia can have long-term consequences. In the later stages of dementia, you may not be able to benefit from treatments used in the early stages, and it will be more difficult to take part in care planning. Though confronting the possibility of dementia can be hard, an early diagnosis can make preparing for the future easier both on you and your loved one.
Talking with a doctor about the possibility of dementia is an important but challenging first step. When you’re ready to begin this conversation, here are some tips to help you prepare to discuss dementia with a doctor:
1. Know your family, medical and prescription history
Diagnosing dementia is a complex process—rather than using one definitive test, doctors and specialists rely on many different methods and tools to determine whether or not a person has dementia. One key component of making a diagnosis is eliminating other conditions as the root cause of symptoms and behaviors. To do this, doctors need information about you and your history, including:
- Family history: Not all dementia is inherited, but certain types, particularly frontotemporal dementia, can be passed down genetically.
- Medical history: Knowing your medical history can help your doctor determine if you have certain dementia risk factors, or if your symptoms might be caused by a condition that you have that is unrelated to dementia, such as depression or stroke.
- Prescription history: Certain prescriptions cause dementia-like side effects, such as forgetfulness or difficulty thinking clearly.
2. Write down symptoms and behaviors you have noticed
If you are addressing dementia with a doctor, you likely have a reason behind your concerns. Maybe you’ve started forgetting appointments, or are having trouble focusing on everyday tasks you used to do easily.
Any time something happens which causes you concern, make a note of what happened and when. This information will be valuable to your doctor when making a diagnosis. Be sure to focus on new or sudden changes. It’s common for people to forget things on occasion or have days when they’re in a bad mood, but if these things are happening with increasing frequency or to a greater degree than before, they’re worth discussing with a doctor.
3. Ask others for insight
Our loved ones often notice things about us that you never notice ourselves. If you feel comfortable doing so, it can help to reach out to the friends or family members who spend time with you and ask them if they’ve noticed anything unusual.
4. Come prepared with honesty
It’s not uncommon for people to omit important information during health appointments, or even to lie about things they’re uncomfortable or ashamed of. Others feel the need to say what they think the doctor wants to hear, and may share inaccurate health information.
It may be tempting to minimize symptoms in hopes that will lessen your chances of being diagnosed with dementia. You may even feel the need to leave out difficult details, such as feelings of depression or uncomfortable changes in behavior because they’re not easy to talk about.
However, an accurate diagnosis will come sooner and easier the more open and honest you are. And the sooner a diagnosis is made, the easier it will be for you to connect with helpful resources and plan for the future based on your own wishes rather than someone else’s. Honesty may be hard in the moment, but it’s a worthwhile investment to make for the sake of your future.
5. Prepare questions
If you’re concerned about dementia, you’re sure to have a number of questions, and a health appointment is a great time to have them answered. Many people have concerns about bothering doctors or asking what they consider to be “stupid questions,” but receiving the information you need is far more important when it comes to your health and peace of mind.
This article was written for the Expansion of Dementia-Capable Communities within Urban and Rural Settings in Ohio using Evidence-Based and Informed Programming project, a grant funded by the Administration for Community Living (ACL) . Learn more here.