Family caregivers often feel overwhelmed by the dizzying assortment of doctors, nurses, and specialists with whom they must interact to optimize care for a loved one diagnosed with dementia.
If you are in this situation, we understand your confusion. Navigating the healthcare system, especially when dealing with your own stress levels, can be daunting.
However, the complex nature of dementias, such as Alzheimer’s, demands a high level of expertise in order to accurately diagnose and treat the disease. Optimizing care requires the collective expertise of people trained to address associated physical, cognitive, and emotional changes.
Here are some of the key professionals you may encounter as you navigate the healthcare journey ahead:
General practitioners and internists: We’re often asked what the difference is between the two.
- General practitioners (or family practitioners) serve patients of all ages. Their focus is more generalized which allows them to treat a wide range of physical issues for children as well as adults.
- Internists focus their practices on adults. Because their focus is on the internal specialize in certain areas. They may also be better equipped to make recommendations and provide resources for issues related to aging.
- Neurologists. These highly trained physicians specialize in treatments of diseases and disorders of the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord). A neurologist will recommend a series of neurological tests to view and analyze images of the brain as well as lab tests and general cognition testing. Neurologists play a central role in helping diagnose and develop treatments for patients with dementia.
- Neuro-psychologists. To determine the degree of cognitive impairment in an individual exhibiting signs of dementia, a series of cognition tests are required. Neuro-psychologists are experts in conducting and evaluating these tests. They will assess such things as language proficiency, processing speed, visual/spatial ability and memory. They will make recommendations based upon their assessments and, in some cases, may recommend further evaluation.
- Psychiatrists. These professionals are instrumental in the treatment of dementia. They are uniquely trained to apply both medical and psychological expertise to assist with an accurate diagnosis and help prescribe a comprehensive treatment program. They often will work closely with caregivers and other professionals along the support chain.
- Nurses: Often on the frontline of care, dementia nurses are highly trained in the day-to-day care of individuals with dementia. They are trained to handle both the medical and emotional aspects of dementia as well as managing medications and treatments. They may also serve as a helpful conduit between specialists. Because they have a more intimate relationship with patients, they can be of great assistance and support to families as the disease progresses.
- Therapists: Individuals with dementia will need to work with occupational, speech and physical therapists as the disease impacts all three areas. Working in collaboration with each other to optimize an individual’s speech, mobility and cognitive abilities can greatly help those with dementia lead a more productive, purposeful life especially as the disease progresses.
Below are some of the resources used in this blog, which you may find helpful for more in-depth descriptions and information about the many professionals who serve dementia patients and their families:
You can also visit our Anthem Memory Care resource page which contains links to organizations that can be helpful in providing information and additional resources.