At one time or another, everyone forgets where they left the car keys, blanks out on a word or name, or cannot remember why they went to the kitchen. Is our forgetfulness simply the result of preoccupation, a “senior moment,” or is it something much worse?
It’s easy to leap to conclusions. It’s considerably more difficult to take the next step and talk to your family, a close friend, a religious or spiritual advisor, or your doctor about your deepest and darkest worries.
Your family and friends will probably say something non-committal and suggest that you make an appointment to see your doctor. A religious or spiritual advisor will probably have some comforting words and encourage you to speak with your doctor. Your doctor will recommend that you undergo a complete medical exam.
Your medical history comprises the first portion of your exam. Your doctor will ask if you smoke, drink, or have ever had a head injury or a concussion. He or she will want a list of the medications you take and the daily dosage. Your doctor will want to know your surgical history--dates, type, and if you experienced complications.
The doctor will also give you a checklist of various diseases and conditions that you or a close relative may have or have had. Some of these include diabetes, psychiatric disorders, high blood pressure, migraine headaches, thyroid disease, epilepsy, strokes, or heart disease. In other words – come to your appointment prepared with a list of the important information that most people do not remember in sufficient detail.
Next, your doctor will listen to your heart and lungs and then begin the usual prods and pokes. One aspect of your physical exam may be different from the ones you have experienced before. Because you are concerned about memory difficulties, your doctor may administer a series of simple tests to evaluate: your cognitive functions--the ability to think, learn, and remember as well as your executive functions--the ability to plan, organize, strategize, and pay attention to detail. Together the medical history and the physical exam provide the clues your doctor needs to take the most appropriate next steps.
Based on the results of your complete medical exam, your doctor may say “everything looks good.” However, don’t jump to conclusions if your doctor suggests that you undergo further tests. Just try to remember that ruling out Alzheimer's Disease or any other of the dozen or so kinds of commonly encountered dementia is difficult. Yes, “it’s easier said than done.”
Janet Yagoda Shagam, Ph.D., is a freelance medical and science writer and the author of “An Unintended Journey: A Caregiver's Guide to Dementia.” Available through Amazon.
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