Tips for discussing cognitive decline with physicians


DAYTON — Today, there are more than 6 million people 65 and older who are living with Alzheimer’s dementia, including 220,000 in Ohio, according to the recent Alzheimer’s Association 2023 “Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures” report.

An accompanying special report, “The Patient Journey in an Era of New Treatments,” offers new insights from patients and primary care physicians (PCPs) on current barriers that impede earlier discussion of cognitive concerns.

The report showed too often individuals with memory concerns and their doctors are not discussing the issue, missing a critical first step toward diagnosis and potential treatment.

According to the report, individuals hesitate because they believe their experiences are related to normal aging, rather than a potential diagnosable medical condition. For PCPs, the report shows they are not proactively asking their patients about cognitive issues and will wait until the individual or their family members bring it to their attention.

“For the first time in nearly two decades, there are treatments for individuals with early stages of the disease that can slow down the progression and give them more time with their families and loved ones,” said Annemarie Barnett, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Cincinnati and Miami Valley Chapters. “More than ever before, these conversations about memory or other cognitive issues an individual is facing are critical and need to take promptly when a concern is raised.”

To help individuals become more confident and prepared to discuss their cognitive issues, the Alzheimer’s Association offers these three tips for talking to health care professionals about memory and cognitive concerns:

Find the right doctor: in most cases, the first point of contact for concerns about memory and thinking is with your primary care physician. Ask your physician how comfortable they are identifying and diagnosing cognitive problems and whether there are circumstances in which he or she would refer to a specialist. Most often, your physician will perform an initial assessment, and if cognitive decline is detected, order more advanced testing or refer you to a specialist for a more definitive diagnosis. If your doctor doesn’t take your concerns seriously, seek a second opinion.

Be prepared: come to your visit with a list of any changes in your health, including your mood, memory and behaviors. Include a list of past and current medical problems, current prescriptions, over-the-counter medications including vitamins or supplements. Most importantly, be sure to have your list of questions and be prepared to answer the doctor’s questions honestly and to the best of your ability.

Get educated: when speaking to the doctor, be sure to ask what tests will be performed, what the tests involve, how long each test takes and when the results will be available.

“While discussing cognitive concerns with your health care provider can be challenging, it’s really important,” said Dayna Ritchey, program director of the Alzheimer’s Association Greater Cincinnati and Miami Valley Chapters. “Having these conversations with a doctor can help facilitate early detection and diagnosis, offering individuals and families important benefits, not only treatments, but emotional and social benefits, access to clinical trials and more time to plan the future. It is also important to note that some forms of cognitive decline are treatable.”

There are 493,000 caregivers caring for 220,000 Ohioans age 65 and older living with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association “2023 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures.” The number of Ohioans living with Alzheimer’s is expected to increase to 225,000 by 2025.

Those concerned about themselves or a loved one can contact the Alzheimer’s Association Miami Valley Chapter at 937-291-3332 to schedule a care consultation with a social worker who can offer connections to local resources that can help.

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