The Neurologist and Alzheimer's Disease

If a senior loved one has been exhibiting some of the warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, their primary care physician has likely referred them to a neurologist for more testing. For families, the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is a surprisingly long process. That is because there is no conclusive test that can be performed to definitely diagnose the disease. Instead, the diagnosis requires other illnesses and diseases that can mimic Alzheimer’s disease be ruled out. Those diseases can include a thyroid disorder, severe vitamin B12 deficiency, some medications, hydrocephalus, tumors, alcoholism and more.

How can you help your aging loved one prepare for their first visit with a neurologist?

Here are few suggestions:

  • Review with your loved one how active of a role they want you to play in the appointment. Do they want you to go in the examination room with them or wait in the lobby?
  • Be sure you are clear on any pre-appointment protocols before the appointment. The neurologist might want to do bloodwork that requires your family member to fast ahead of time or they might want you to send copies of any testing already done to them a week before the appointment.
  • Keep a symptom journal that is thorough but concise. You want to be able to quickly and clearly share concerns during your time with the neurologist.
  • Make sure you have a list of medications they are taking including dosage amounts with you at the appointment.

What can you expect at the first neurologist visit?

The neurologist will likely follow a fairly standard protocol to determine if your senior loved one might have Alzheimer’s disease. That usually includes:

  • A physical exam
  • A neurological exam (reflexes, walking, muscle strength, coordination and balance)
  • A mental status test

They will also likely order bloodwork to rule out a vitamin deficiency or thyroid disorder and some type of brain imaging. That could be a CT scan, an MRI or a PET scan.

The bottom line is to be prepared for all of this to take some time. No news isn’t necessarily bad news when you are waiting for the final word on an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

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