It is recommended that everyone with suspected dementia should see a specialist to receive a proper examination and diagnosis. There are many different kinds of medical professionals now, such as primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants, neurologists, etc. and trying to find the right one can be a long and tedious experience. There are many different dementia-specific specialists:
- Geriatricians are primary care internists or family practitioners who specialize in complex conditions of older people, can provide care for all of an older adult’s medical needs, but do not specialize in brain or memory problems.
- Geriatric psychiatrists specialize in the mental and emotional needs of older individuals. They conduct thorough memory, mood, sleep, and thinking evaluations, and are particularly good at assessing memory problems associated with life stress, depression, anxiety, excess drinking, or family conflicts.
- General neurologists and psychiatrists perform memory evaluations, but do not specialize in Alzheimer’s and may treat few people with dementia.
- Behavioral neurologists specialize in cognitive problems such as memory loss, and are very good at detecting subtle brain injuries such as a small stroke or an infection that may be causing the memory problems. They also conduct very thorough neurological and cognitive exams.
- There are other doctors who perform specialized tests, but usually do not see patients without a referral. These include neuropsychologists who perform detailed memory testing; radiologists and nuclear medicine doctors who perform special brain scans; and consultant pharmacists who check for harmful drug interactions.
Likely your best choice is a superspecialist, such as a geriatric psychiatrist, a geriatrician with a special interest in dementia, or a behavioral neurologist. If you cannot get an appointment or your insurance does not cover these visits, then a second choice would be a specialist such as a geriatrician, psychiatrist, or neurologist who has been recommended by your primary doctor.
If you have concerns about memory problems, do not be afraid to talk with your primary doctor about it. While they may not be able to give you a diagnosis, they know you well enough to see when something is wrong or changing, and can recommend a specialist for you to speak with further. They also know your complete medical history, allowing them to rule out certain possibilities for your memory problems, or test other possible causes right away.
Memory centers are another possible route of professional care. Memory centers, or memory disorder clinics, are centers that specialize in the testing, diagnosis, and treatment of dementia. These centers offer the latest tests, and give you the option to participate in their research studies and clinical drug trials. Click here for more information regarding the UNC Memory Disorders Program.