Primary Care for Your Loved One With Alzheimer’s

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When you’re choosing a primary care doctor for your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, many things can affect your decision.

The first thing to think about is the office itself. It should be easy to get to. If you drive there, it should be easy to park.

Check the hours to make sure they work for you and that it’s easy to get an appointment. Some practices are open evenings and weekends. That can save you a trip to an urgent care clinic or the emergency room.

Some offices have their own lab to draw blood and take X-rays, which means you won’t have to take your loved one somewhere else for those.

A friendly staff is important, too. You should get a prompt call back from a nurse or provider when you call with a question.

Seeing a Specialist

Primary care doctors are usually trained to be general providers. Many have a lot of experience in care of older persons, but some don’t have much experience with Alzheimer’s disease. If you think this is the case, talk with the doctor about it. They may be able to address your concerns. If you don’t want to talk about it in person, write them a letter or talk to a nurse on staff.

If you want to see a specialist, geriatricians, geriatric nurse practitioners, and geriatric psychiatrists are all trained in the care of older people. Neurologists and neuropsychologists also help people with dementia.

They can give you and your loved one more information and make suggestions on how to manage issues. If you see a specialist, they should let the primary doctor know what they recommend.

Before the Visit

Go ahead and make a first appointment -- don’t wait until your loved one is sick. When you call, let the office know your loved one is new. They may need to schedule a longer visit.

Choose a time of day that you’ll both be comfortable and well-rested. During the first hour of the morning or afternoon is often good, because some doctors tend to fall behind. Try not to go at mealtimes. If the doctor runs late, your loved one might get upset or confused if they’re hungry.

Take some steps to prepare for the appointment:

  • Write down any concerns or questions.
  • Bring a list of all medications (including prescribed and over the counter), vitamins, and supplements. Better yet, bring all medications with you in a bag.
  • Bring a notebook to take notes.
  • Pack snacks and drinks for both of you.
  • Bring personal hygiene products if you need them.
  • Have something for both of you to do, such as books, magazines, puzzles, or music with headphones.

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When You Can’t Be There

There may be times when you can’t go to a doctor visit with your loved one and someone else takes them. If this happens, you’ll want to be sure that you find out how it went.

Ask the person who’ll be with your loved one to take notes. They should write down the name and phone number of someone to call if you have questions. Also, have them ask the doctor for written instructions about any changes in care.

If needed, call the nurse or doctor after the appointment to get a report on how the visit went.

If You Want to Change Doctors

You might decide to change primary care doctors for many reasons. They may not be skilled in the care of people with dementia, or their office might not be convenient. If your loved one moves to a nursing home, you may choose to have them see the doctor there.

If you decide to change, have a new primary care doctor lined up before you leave the current one. Some doctors don’t take new patients or there may be a wait list. If possible, schedule a last visit with the current doctor to get copies of medical records, test results, and a current list of medications.

It might be important for the doctor to know why you want to leave. If you don’t want to talk about it in person, write them a letter or talk to a nurse on staff.

WebMD Medical Reference in Collaboration with the Cecil G. Sheps Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on August 21, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

Aging Care (n.d.): “Preparing Elders with Dementia for a Doctor’s Visit.”

Alzheimer’s Association (n.d.): “Alzheimer’s Disease Study,” “Working with the Doctor.”

Family Caregiver Alliance (n.d.): “Communicating with Your Doctor.”

National Institute on Aging: “How to Choose a Doctor You can Talk To,” “How to Prepare for a Doctor’s Appointment.”

Alzheimer’s Australia Victoria: “Four Steps to Building Dementia Practice in Primary Care.”

Primary Care Companion to Journal of Clinical Psychiatry: “The Art of Sharing the Diagnosis and Management of Alzheimer’s Disease with Patients and Caregivers: Recommendations of an Expert Consensus Panel.”

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