How to talk to your doctor about memory concerns
Has everyday forgetfulness turned into more serious memory concerns?
For many older adults it has. For some, the memory concern is for a loved one they live with or care for.
It’s a valid concern – one that should be talked about with your healthcare provider. In fact, if you have concerns, you’ll want to talk to your doctor the next time you see him or her. Or schedule a consultation – in-person, through a televisit or with a virtual visit – now.
“Memory loss is a not a normal part of aging,” the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) warns. Yet, more than half of people who have memory concerns don’t talk to their doctor about those, the CDC found.
But not all memory problems are permanent or degenerative. So when you talk to your doctor, you might identify an alternative cause – and solution.
Signs it’s time to talk
If you’re still on the fence about contacting your healthcare provider with memory concerns, here are signs it’s likely time to make the call.
- struggling to find the right words or communicate effectively
- mixing up unrelated words
- getting lost in familiar areas
- struggling to perform normal, daily tasks
- asking the same questions again and again
- putting items in places they don’t belong
- struggling to recognize or remember names of family members or friends,
- having a difficult time planning or problem-solving, and
- increasingly getting anxious, depressed or aggressive.
Of course, those symptoms are scary. They don’t make it easy to start the conversation.
But it’s important because your healthcare provider can likely diagnose the issue, talk about treatment, help you manage chronic conditions and identify caregiving needs.
What to do before the conversation
Whether you talk about your personal memory concerns or those you have for a loved one, you’ll want to prepare for an effective discussion.
These tips will help.
- Note instances that concern you. Keep a journal, noting dates, times and incidents mentioned on the above list – plus anything else that concerns you. If you aren’t up to keeping the log, ask a loved one to help.
- Create an agenda. Many doctor’s visits only last a few minutes. If you don’t prepare what you want to cover, your healthcare provider may conclude before you share and ask everything you need to. Make notes on what you want to say and ask – and see them through.
- Do some research. Your primary care physician will almost always be the best resource because he or she knows you and your history. But gather some information from trusted resources such as the CDC and Alzheimer’s Association ahead of time and ask your physician to clarify anything you don’t understand.
Take the lead in the visit
You might be nervous or apprehensive when it’s time to talk to your healthcare provider, regardless of whether the conversation is about you or a loved one. That’s OK. In fact, it could be the first step in the discussion.
This guide can help on what to do:
- Explain to your feelings. Tell your healthcare provider how you feel about discussing memory concerns – embarrassed, frustrated, confused, nervous, etc. And explain how you feel when you realize you might have had a “memory episode” like those mentioned above.
- Explain your circumstances. Fill your doctor in on any changes to your lifestyle, living circumstances, responsibilities (or your loved one’s, if that’s the reason for the visit). It’s relevant to your concerns.
- Ask questions. Some examples:
- What tests will you perform?
- What do I need to do to take the tests?
- When can I expect results?
- What should I do while I await results?
- Ask for clarification. Healthcare providers often use physician-speak, not recognizing patients don’t fully understand their clinical language. Don’t leave the office more confused then when you walked in. Ask for clarification when you don’t understand. Say, “When you say that, what do you mean?” Or, “Can you give me an example of that?” Or, “Can you explain that in another way?”
The work won’t be over once you talk about memory concerns with your healthcare provider. It’s just the beginning. Plan to collaborate on your goals and treatment, knowing you can also rely on your Friend’s LifeCare Care Coordinator to help.
If there’s treatment involved, talk about side effects, alternatives and how to handle it all. Continue to discuss your concerns, mounting anxiety and feelings so your physician can help you address those, too.
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