Hearing the doctor say, “it’s Alzheimer’s” for the first time often triggers a flood of emotions for people, including shock, denial, and even relief.
Once you work through the initial feelings, it’s wise to talk to the doctor in more depth about the diagnosis and situation. Better understanding translates to a better quality of life for those living with , and a better support experience for and .
Here are some of the top questions to ask your
’s doctor after a recent .
If the doctor says, “it’s Alzheimer’s” it probably is – but sometimes the words “Alzheimer’s” and “Dementia” are used interchangeably, and it’s worth asking to be sure. Different
progress differently, and specific symptoms and treatments can vary with the exact diagnosis.
Dementia is a general term for cognitive (thinking) challenges severe enough to interfere with . These can include , trouble with language or words, impaired , and difficulty . can often occur as well.
Dementia can be caused by various diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, or .
It can also result from other conditions, such as brain or strokes.
is the leading cause of dementia in .
’s can include difficulty with concentration, memory, language, or judgment, as well as withdrawal from social events and changes in mood or behavior.
(also called younger-onset Alzheimer's) occurs in individuals under the age of 65 – sometimes as young as 30 or 40.
is sometimes considered one of the of dementia.
Symptoms are mild enough to not interfere with , but over time, often the into Alzheimer’s.
An accurate diagnosis is important. Many conditions can cause symptoms that look like
, but some can be treated and reversed. After a thorough evaluation, you can feel confident in your ’s diagnosis and ready to plan for the future.
A ’s generally follows a series of , interviews, and procedures.
Your may receive a to a specialist, such as a or a , to help make the diagnosis.
The doctor will review your ’s .
Tests determine whether the and other symptoms might be related to other issues, such as medication , nutritional deficiencies, or clinical depression.
The doctor often asks close friends, , or to describe changes or challenges they've seen or to describe how the ’s are affecting your ’s .
tests can identify problems with , memory, or .
, , and – such as ( ) and (MRIs) – are sometimes part of the process of .
These special tests can identify areas of lost
or of the disease, such as .
It’s helpful to have a general idea of the severity of your
’s so you'll have a common understanding and vocabulary when talking with others about care, resources, or support.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease, meaning it gets worse over time. A variety of scales exist to describe the differently.
Some scales classify stages very broadly, sticking with terms like “early”, “middle”, and “”.
Detailed scales break down the disease into as many as seven stages.
People don’t always fit nicely into any one stage (especially on detailed scales) and many people fluctuate between stages from day to day.
Many factors affect the rate
in each individual. Ask the doctor what to expect in your ’s case so you can better prepare for future care needs.
The life expectancy of a person with Alzheimer’s varies tremendously. On average, a person will live four to eight years after diagnosis, but many factors influence this, and some live over 20 years.
Expect a long, gradual decline in thinking and functioning in .
Consult the doctor for sudden or drastic changes, which tend to indicate something else is happening (such as another form of dementia, an infection, illness, or unmet need).
Ask your ’s doctor about what you can do to help keep them at their best. People with do best when they:
Eat healthy food on a regular schedule
Engage in physical activity daily
Enjoy personally fulfilling, meaningful activity each day
Socialize with others in ways that feel safe and comfortable
Avoid feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, or angry
Stay comfortable, healthy, and pain-free
People with Alzheimer’s often have difficulty recognizing or communicating when something is wrong. Instead of using words to express how they’re feeling, they'll often exhibit challenging behavior and experience more confusion and worsening symptoms.
Educate yourself on ways to interact in ways that minimize frustration and extra challenges for your .
There are a few medications approved by the FDA to treat , but they aren’t appropriate or helpful for everyone, and each has to consider.
Additionally, various prescription and over-the-counter medications can create problems for people with .
Provide the doctor with a list of every prescription and over-the-counter medication and supplement your takes.
Ask them to review the medications for recommendations or concerns.
If the doctor starts a new medication to treat Alzheimer’s, ask:
How long should it take to start working?
How will we know if it’s working?
What types of should we expect?
When would it be appropriate to stop taking it?
There’s no shortage of herbal supplements or “miracle cures” for Alzheimer’s on the market. It’s easy to buy into these products’ hype out of hope or desperation, but most have no scientific basis and some may interact with other medications to create dangerous effects.
Talk to the doctor before trying anything new to avoid potential problems, such as an increased risk for falls, illnesses, changes in behavior, or other concerns.
Some advance care planning documents may require your doctor’s signature and most are best reviewed as early as possible when your
can participate most fully in making decisions.
With the right planning, you can ensure your ’s future care goes as smoothly as possible, preventing unnecessary suffering for both of you. If you wait too long, you may lose options.
For example, your won’t be able to complete a Power of Attorney (POA) form if their Alzheimer’s is too severe. Instead, you’ll need to petition for guardianship to make decisions on their behalf – a much more intensive, expensive option than a POA.
Read more about Legal Documents for
Having access to support, guidance, and good advice in the right moments can make a huge difference in your
’s quality of life. However, finding help isn’t always easy. Your doctor may be able to point you in the direction of some good local resources.
Education opportunities, resources, and support can be found through a variety of avenues.
A geriatric care manager versed in dementia can offer personalized guidance.
Dementia support groups can be valuable sources of advice.
Adult day programs for those with dementia can provide support and respite for your
and guidance when you need it.
These organizations can help you find resources, services, and support:
Ready Set Care’s Care Community provides no-cost access to experts who can answer your questions about caring for your aging . You’ll also benefit from support from other family .
Resource Finder helps you locate nearby dementia care programs, services, and resources.’s
Dial 2-1-1 to find an array of local resources and services.
The Eldercare Locator is provided by the U.S. Administration on Aging to connect the public with services for and their families.
Your local Area Agency on Aging is the go-to hub for all local resources and services to support .
’s doesn’t automatically mean your can no longer drive – especially in the case of an – but it should trigger a conversation about driving safety, and the doctor’s input on this topic is invaluable.
Ask for the doctor’s opinion on whether it’s still safe to drive.
Consider which you should watch for that might indicate it’s time to stop.
Discuss alternative ways of meeting transportation needs. Giving up driving can increase your 's risk of isolation, which can be incredibly damaging, so figure out how to keep them socially engaged in activities that matter to them.
Review the Driving Safety and .’s guide to
Palliative care is a special support program for individuals with terminal illnesses, including
. It requires a doctor’s order for insurance to cover it. The goal of palliative care is to manage symptoms, minimize suffering and maximize the quality of life for the patient and their family. Getting started early can prevent needless suffering in the months and years ahead.
A palliative care team can provide oversight, support, and guidance to you and your with . It’s available for patients at any point after a diagnosis, not only at the end of life like hospice care.
Learn more about Palliative Care and how it can help you and your with Alzheimer’s
From falls to kitchen fires to getting lost, safety is a big concern when someone is diagnosed with Alzheimer's. Talk to the doctor about any immediate safety concerns that may need to be addressed, then start working on a plan to ensure your
will continue to be safe as the .
People with Alzheimer's can live at home safely with the right support for quite a while – sometimes their entire life under the right conditions. However, in many cases, moving to a facility is the only option to meet a person’s care needs after a certain point.
Hired home care can make an enormous difference in supporting someone at home.
Even if you don’t anticipate an immediate move it’s wise to do your homework and plan ahead so that you’re not left scrambling in the event of a crisis.
that it’s time to think about a move include
Difficulty with mobility, behavior, or personal care that can’t be managed by at home
Social withdrawal or isolation
feeling exhausted or unable to keep up with care needs
Clinical research trials offer a number of both pros and cons for people with dementia and their
. The doctor can help you weigh them in your situation.
Visit Alzheimers. to access the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services web search to find research studies for people with dementia and their .
Dealing with a new can feel overwhelming and it's not always clear where to begin.
Start by asking these questions – and any others you might have – of the doctor to give yourself a better understanding of what may lie ahead. You'll be able to make choices that lead to better experiences for yourself and your as you both adjust to life with Alzheimer's.
Laura Herman is an Elder and Dementia Care Professional with 23 years of experience working with seniors with dementia. She has served in a variety of roles ranging from front-line caregiver to memory care facility administrator. Her blog "ABC Dementia", or Appreciating Behavioral Communication in Dementia, focuses on helping professional and family caregivers understand and respond to behaviors in dementia.
Ready Set Care is creating a community to provide guidance for anyone caring for an aging loved one.
If you know someone that could benefit from our website, click the share icons below
or copy link below