Why is it necessary to get a diagnosis for Alzheimer's or dementia?

2 answers | Last updated: Sep 18, 2016
Copperjil asked...

If your parent is obviously having memory loss, what difference does it make whether you get a doctor's diagnosis or the family just works with the changes as they come?

Expert Answers

Ron Kauffman is a certified senior advisor (CSA), senior lifestyle radio host, syndicated newspaper columnist, and the author of Caring for a Loved One With Alzheimer's Disease. In addition, Kauffman is also the primary caregiver for his mother, who has Alzheimer's.

Dear Copperjil:

There are many reasons for physical and mental symptoms such as memory loss, just as there are for other maladies.

A sore throat can mean you've strained your voice, or you might have caught a cold, have a case of tonsillitis or perhaps actually have a serious strep infection that if not treated could kill you.

That same reasoning for seeking the proper medical diagnosis for a sore throat also needs to be applied to memory loss. There can be many reasons for the symptom of memory loss ranging from a urinary tract infection, a TIA or stroke to dementia. Treating the medical problem properly, no matter what it may be, is totally dependent upon knowing what the problem really is.

Imagine if when you were a baby, you developed a high fever, and rather than calling the doctor or going to the emergency room, your parents simply said, "Oh, all kids get fevers...she'll be fine."

Would you be okay with that? I doubt it, especially if failing to involve a medical professional might have resulted in permanent brain damage or death.

My advice to you is to stop thinking that you understand or know what's causing the problem. Show some compassion and common sense by getting the problem diagnosed by a neurologist so you actually know the root cause of the memory loss.

It's possible there may be a treatment for the problem, and it may be something easily addressed. If it is a form of dementia, the use of certain medicines, if they work, can slow down the process of the loss.

Denying your own parent the care you would want if the shoe were on the other foot is not only callous, but in some states could be considered elder abuse, if lack of proper evaluation and treatment of a treatable condition results in what can be deemed patient neglect.

I'm hopeful that you're willing to do the right thing, and I would begin by getting a reliable diagnosis. Once that's in been done, you can begin to plan for the best approach to the care of your parent based on a clear understanding of the problem.

Believe me, if the diagnosis is a dementia such as Alzheimer's disease, you'll be very happy that you sought out some guidance and assistance early in what is likely to be a very long and sad journey.

Community Answers

Brenda avadian answered...

It makes a big difference to get a diagnosis if one is experiencing memory loss.

What if the diagnosis is not caused by Alzheimer's or dementia but rather a reaction to medicines? The latter can be more easily addressed by evaluating interactions of and doses of different medications. You wouldn't want to see your parent suffer needlessly.

If your parent is showing signs of early Alzheimer's or other cause of dementia, some interventions early on may delay the progress. If you suspect impairment, it's always best to get a diagnosis so you know what to expect.

However, first make sure your parents' insurance coverage is secure and any long-term-care plans (including long-term care insurance needs) have been discussed and even implemented (if appropriate). Otherwise, after a diagnosis of Alzheimer's for example, long-term-care insurers will not likely offer coverage.

These two articles will help you to make a more informed decision about diagnosis.

Alzheimer's Tests: Pros and Cons of the 6 Main Options

What to Do if You Suspect Alzheimer's Disease in a Loved One

For further information, scan through the article overviews at

Diagnosing Alzheimer's and Other Dementias Questions