Dementia is a specialised area of expertise and requires a specialised, and not general, approach. A visit to the following specialists should achieve an accurate diagnosis:
Physicians focus on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of diseases and disability. Physicians are holistic and thorough before making a diagnosis, and efficient in eliminating the possibility of reversible dementias (or wrongly diagnosed dementias). As a rule, it is good for your loved ones to visit geriatric physicians at least once a year, or at the intervals discussed with your GP. Geriatric Physicians will also monitor and evaluate your loved one’s progress on many vital functions, such as medication and dosage, blood pressure, sugar levels and cholesterol.
A neurologist is a specialist in the diagnosis of diseases of the nervous system. Neurologists often rely on scans of the brain when making a diagnosis of dementia. If Parkinson’s or other neurological conditions are also a factor, visiting a neurologist is an excellent recommendation.
Psychiatrists are specialists in mental health. At Livewell, we like to refer people to psychiatrists when there are behaviours that are cause for concern, or changes in their mental wellbeing. It is always good to have a psychiatrist on your multi-disciplinary team to walk this journey with you.
We advise that you accompany your loved one to all their doctors’ visits and not let them go alone. Ensuring that there is always someone trusted and caring with them will help them to feel safe and secure. Being there to understand the information regarding tests and procedures is extremely important and beneficial to you both.
In South Africa, most doctors complete a questionnaire called the Mini-Mental State Exam. However, this on its own is not sufficient in making a dementia diagnosis. Doctors will also perform blood tests, or may require brain scans as well. A detailed background is also required, so please record the changes in your loved one and family history beforehand.