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Choosing a specialist for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease

Choosing a specialist for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia, is a chronic brain disease characterized by the progressive deterioration of memory, language, visual perception and activities of daily living.

If you have a loved one with memory problems, it’s important to see a clinician who has expertise in Alzheimer’s to receive a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. That may be the patient’s primary care physician, or the PCP may refer you to a specialist. Neurologists and geriatricians are two types of specialists who diagnose and treat Alzheimer’s disease.

Neurologists diagnose and treat disorders that affect the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord. Because neurologists may “sub-specialize” in different areas, it’s important to consult a neurologist who has experience with patients who have Alzheimer's.

Geriatricians are internists or family physicians who undergo additional training to manage the health care needs of seniors. Because of our special training, geriatricians usually see frail, older patients with complex issues and significant impairment.

If your loved one has memory problems, you may want to consult with a geriatrician if:

  • The patient is seeing a number of health care professionals for multiple health concerns
  • Family members are under significant stress as caregivers

Depending on the patient, the geriatrician can serve as the primary care physician or as a consultant who sees the patient periodically for specific health care needs with the PCP managing day-to-day medical care.

Geriatricians generally use a team approach to caring for older people and supporting their family members.  For example, I work with a social worker at Hebrew SeniorLife’s Memory Disorders Clinic, and we are equal partners.

Together, we take a multidimensional view of Alzheimer’s and other dementias, evaluating these memory disorders in light of what else is going on in the patient’s life — other medical conditions, available social supports and the patient’s living situation, for example.

In our clinic, we use a proactive approach to memory loss, and put a strong emphasis on education. When we meet with the patient and family to discuss the diagnosis and recommendations, we put them in the context of the family and what they can do in terms of short-term and long-term planning.

In addition to providing diagnosis and treatment to the patient, we help family members focus on their own health and emotional wellbeing as they cope with their loved one's memory loss. Dementia is a family affair, and everyone in the family can benefit from education and support.

What do you think? Leave your opinion in the comments below. 

Memory Care at Assisted Living at NewBridge on the Charles 

NewBridge on the Charles offers the Gilda and Alfred A. Slifka Memory Care Assisted Living Residences to seniors with early stage and mid-stage Alzheimer's Disease and/or a related dementia. The Memory Care Assisted Living Residences at NewBridge on the Charles provides a personalized and meaningful assisted living experience for residents based on the history, preferences and goals of each individual. Short-term stays now available. 

Learn more about Memory Care at NewBridge

Ruth Kandel, MD's picture

About the Blogger

Geriatrician, Hebrew SeniorLife, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School until December 2016

Ruth Kandel obtained her bachelor's degree from State University of New York, Buffalo and her medical degree from Albert Einstein College of Medicine. She completed a residency in internal medicine at Boston City Hospital and a geriatrics fellowship at Bedford Veteran's Administration Hospital/Boston University Medical Center. She provides inpatient primary care and is an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. Her academic interests include Alzheimer's disease, memory disorders, and...

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