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The need to advocate begins the moment you realize something isn’t right with your loved one. The moment you make the decision that you have to see the doctor the caregiving process begins and life can become complicated.

The first question is what type of doctor should you see to evaluate your loved one and hopefully provide an accurate diagnosis. Most people start with their family doctor. That doctor is often familiar with your loved one and can begin the path to a diagnosis. The family doctor will usually refer you to a neurologist for further testing. That is because neurologists are specially trained to deal with problems relating to the brain, which is exactly what dementia is.

If it is ultimately determined that your loved one is suffering from dementia then the decision must be made whether to continue in the care of the family doctor (general practitioner) or transition to a geriatric physician for future care. A geriatric physician is someone who cares only for the elderly. They are usually well-versed in issues like dementia and other problems that present as people age.

It is perfectly fine to start treating with the family doctor. Ultimately if you choose to have them manage care going forward they will most likely do a good job. It is just a question of whether you wish to stay with someone who deals with geriatric issues as part of what they do versus someone who treats only elderly patients – many of whom will have the same issues your loved one has. Either way, the neurologist should be part of the team caring for your loved one going forward.

Ultimately, what matters most is that an accurate diagnosis is made and a care plan is completed. Once you have a good care plan in place the lead doctor – whether the family doctor, a neurologist or a geriatric physician – should work with you to implement the plan and help to provide your loved one with the highest possible quality of life.

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