You've been forgetting things lately--where you put the car keys, the
name of an acquaintance, directions to a place you've been before.
Do you bring it up with your doctor at your next checkup or just chalk
it up to memory glitches that will probably go away after a while? If
you choose the latter route, you're not alone. A recent study in the journal
Preventing Chronic Disease found that with people 45 and older, only one in four brought up their
concerns about their memory with a physician.
"This is a troubling finding for a couple of reasons," says
Henry Kaw, Jr., MD, a board-certified family medicine physician at
St. Jude Medical Center. "First, early intervention with memory disorders such as dementia
or Alzheimer's disease is important, not just in terms of treatment
but also in making decisions, such as with financial matters or long-term
care, before the brain disorder progresses too far. Also, memory loss
may be a symptom of a different problem, such as stress, depression, infection
or thyroid disorder. In those situations, early diagnosis and treatment
can also be beneficial for treatment."
This reluctance to discuss memory problems with a doctor may stem from
fear. "A diagnosis of Alzheimer's or dementia is scary,"
Dr. Kaw says. "Some people simply may not want to face it, so they
just don't talk about it." The study also found that as people
aged, they were less likely to discuss dementia with their doctors.
But when it comes to diagnosing memory loss, "it's better to know
than not know," Dr. Kaw says. "You should feel free to discuss
these issues with your doctor no matter how small, but especially if you
are forgetting how to do daily tasks, the memory loss occurs frequently
or you are forgetting important things, such as conversations or names
of people close to you. Also, you should talk with your doctor if the
problems are getting worse, not better."
Dr. Kaw also advises that you go into the appointment prepared to talk
about your memory issues. "If it's your first visit with the
doctor, bring a history of your major medical conditions, a list of medications
you take, and any family history of memory disorders. You'll also
want to specifically describe the occurrences of memory loss; write it
all down if necessary. The doctor usually can't offer an immediate
diagnosis because she'll want to do testing, but it's a good first
step in taking care of your brain and how it functions."
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