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December 19, 2018

Questions to Ask About Cognitive Decline

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with some sort of cognitive decline, you likely have plenty of questions. And, being armed with the right information can be a significant help in managing life circumstances when cognitive abilities aren’t as sharp as they once were. 

When someone is developing dementia, it’s important to first ask about what kind of cognitive decline is being experienced. Is it Alzheimer’s disease? Lewy body dementia? Or is it a mixed form of dementia or another kind altogether? The word “dementia,” as Health.USNews.com points out, is really an umbrella term for multiple types of conditions in which cognitive function declines, and it’s important to know what form you or a loved one is facing so you can best manage life as it changes.

It’s also reasonable to ask if something other than dementia is really going on. Older adults with declining memory and thinking skills may in fact be experiencing one of multiple conditions that could potentially be reversed or may be having a reaction to medicine. And, depression in older adults can also be misdiagnosed as dementia, so be sure to ask medical professionals if other causes of, say, lessening memory and thinking skills have been fully explored.

Developing Dementia

If the conclusion is that you or your loved one are in fact developing dementia of some type, it’s important to be clear about what type it is and what can be expected during the upcoming “weeks, months and years” and how you should “prepare emotionally, financially and physically.”

HealthInAging.org provides an extensive list of questions to ask about dementia, in general, such as these sample questions from the article:

  • What can cause loss of memory?
  • Can I do anything to improve my memory?
  • How do you treat dementia?

The article also lists questions specific to Alzheimer’s disease to consider asking, including:

  • How is an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis made?
  • Can someone who has Alzheimer’s disease improve their memory?
  • Are there programs in the community for people with Alzheimer’s disease?

Alzheimer’s Disease

If this is the ultimate diagnosis, then the Alzheimer’s Association provides plenty of resources to help you navigate your life’s new normal and recommends that you work closely with your health care team to create the best possible treatment plan. Goals will likely evolve as time passes, and it’s important that you or your caregiver understands the benefits and risks of each treatment recommendation.

A quality treatment plan for this type of cognitive decline will take multiple factors into account, including the following quoted from the website:

  • Age and overall health
  • Current treatment goals
  • Severity of symptoms and their impact on your life
  • Living situation and availability of family members and caregivers

Then, from treatment options available, it’s important to work with your healthcare team to choose what makes the most sense for your specific situation, and to talk about how treatments chosen will be assessed and potentially modified. It’s important to be clear about all potential side effects of any medications given and when it’s time to call the doctor for a reassessment.

The Alzheimer’s Association offers plenty of resources, including a 24/7 free helpline to get confidential advice and support. The number is 800-272-3900, and the TDD number is 866-403-3073. Through this helpline, you can receive referrals to programs in your community, assistance during crises, emotional support and more. Translation services are also available, as needed.

Brain health questions answered

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