Q: The doctor gave my dad a diagnosis of dementia. How can I tell if it is Alzheimer’s or not?
Denise S.; Decatur, GA
A: Well, allow me to clarify that dementia is a syndrome, or cluster of symptoms, pertaining to thinking and memory loss. It is not really a diagnosis. It is sort of like having a diagnosis of a headache. The questions for me, is always, WHY? Why is there memory loss? Sort of like saying “why do you have a headache?” It is a symptom of something larger.
Alzheimer’s disease is currently the number one cause of memory loss, but there are other reasons people get thinking and memory impairment. Strokes and cardiovascular problems, Parkinson’s disease, falls and brain injury are all some of the other more common causes of dementia.
It is very important to get a true diagnosis so you can uncover the underlying reason for the memory loss. If it is Parkinson’s or Cardiovascular in nature, there may be additional treatments that would be needed in addition to any memory medications.
With all due respect to the doctors out there, getting a diagnosis for cognitive impairment should be done by a specialist – like a Neurologist or Geriatric Psychiatrist. A Neurologist is an excellent resource for thinking, memory and movement changes. A Geriatric Psychiatrist would be a great choice if you notice behavioral or mood changes. Do your research to find the right physician to meet your dad’s particular need.
Good Luck! -Lisa