If I’m suspicious, should I have my loved one evaluated for Alzheimer’s risk? By whom?

The quick answer: yes. A doctor must be consulted for a full evaluation as soon as you notice the first symptoms of dementia —more than just mild forgetfulness or confusion.

This type of professional check-up will help determine why the symptoms are present. Are they due to depression? Poor nutrition? Drug use or alcohol abuse? Organ dysfunction? 

If your loved one has never been evaluated for dementia before, your best bet is to consult a neurologist or geriatrician. For those who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a geriatric psychiatrist should be contacted for signs of anxiety, depression, agitation or any other behavioral issues.

You must be comfortable with any physician you use, especially since you’ll likely get into very personal lines of questioning. Remember: Everyone is different, so a doctor who might be appropriate for a friend might not work for you. That is OK and you should keep looking if you’re not satisfied.

Doctor referral services can provide a list of appropriate physicians. It is often comforting to know you are using a doctor whom others have used and liked. Caregivers also might receive information and referrals at support group meetings so look into those, too.

The reason it’s so important to get an early diagnosis of dementia is it can make treatment easier and more effective for all involved. Most importantly, it can lead to appropriate medication that might help slow the progression of the disease.

An initial, thorough check-up should include a physical examination, medical history, neurological tests, laboratory tests, brain imaging and function tests. An individual diagnosed with dementia will see a geriatrician, neurologist or psychiatrist for any issues directly related to the dementia. But a patient should inform his or her primary care physician of the diagnosis, and continue with the doctor for general check-ups.

Experts agree the best proactive strategy to achieve successful caregiving at home is to have a healthy caregiver. Alzheimer’s truly is a family illness. A doctor needs to be aware of the caregiver’s stress level and be willing to offer support, suggestions and encouragement. The best doctors in this field will be concerned about the health and well-being of the caregiver.