Primary Care Physician
If you (or someone you love) are concerned about changes in memory and thinking or changes in senses, behavior, or mood, start by contacting your primary care doctor. Although your doctor may not specialize in cognition problems, he or she can conduct an initial exam to start the process for determining if a physical or mental health issue may be causing (or exacerbating) the problem. Your doctor might even administer a brief memory-screening test—such as the Abbreviated Mental Test Score (AMTS). With this test, a score lower than six out of ten suggests a need for further evaluation.
Additionally, as suggested by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), another reason to start with your primary care doctor is that he or she has your medical history, which provides important background information for a diagnosis. Also, depending upon the relationship you have with your doctor, he or she may know you well enough to recognize changes in your memory and thinking that others may miss. He or she can then refer you to the right kinds of specialists.
Geriatricians manage health care in older adults. They know how the body changes as it ages and whether symptoms indicate a serious problem.
Geriatric psychiatrists specialize in the mental and emotional problems of older adults and can assess memory and thinking problems.
Neurologists specialize in abnormalities of the brain and central nervous system and can conduct and review brain scans.
Neuropsychologists can conduct tests of memory and thinking.
Memory Clinics & Centers
There are also memory clinics and centers, such as the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Centers, which has teams of specialists who work together to diagnose the problem. For example, a geriatrician can look at your general health, a neuropsychologist can test your thinking and memory, and a neurologist can use scanning technology to “see” inside your brain. Tests often are done at the clinic or center, which can speed up diagnosis.
Getting a Second Opinion
Diagnosing memory and thinking problems is as much an art as it is a science. So, getting a second opinion may be worth considering. And don’t worry about “offending” you doctor or specialist. In fact, according to the NIA, not only do most medical professionals understand the benefit of a second opinion, he or she should be happy to refer you to another doctor for a second opinion. Otherwise, there are a number of resources, such as the Alzheimer’s Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center—which is a service of the National Institute on Aging—whose staff can help.
A Word About Clinical Trials
While certainly not right for everyone, clinical trial participation may be an option worth your consideration. Start your research at a credible place such as the Alzheimer's Disease Clinical Trials Database—which is a joint project of the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), maintained by the NIA's Alzheimer's Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center.