You're Noticing Memory Changes but Your Doctor says, "You're Just Getting Older." Here's What To Do NextJul 05, 2022
You’ve finally worked up the nerve to discuss your cognitive changes with your health care provider. You scheduled the appointment, marked the date, wrote down your memory concerns (so you wouldn’t forget) and rehearsed what you needed to say.
You show up to the appointment (early, as usual) and you’re ready to divulge the details of what’s been going on. The forgetful moments, the words getting stuck, the concern for memory loss disease…
It took a lot of courage to admit to yourself that something feels off. That your memory is changing and that it may be time to start exploring causes of these changes, test for short term memory loss and hopefully begin discussing solutions. But here you are, you’re prepared and ready.
Your name is called, you go through the motions (must they weigh me every time!?) and you’re seated in front of your health care practitioner. After they take your vitals, they finally ask you: Do you have any concerns today?
You hold your head up high and start to share. You explain the changes:
- The difficulty word finding in conversation. It’s always stuck on the tip of my tongue. I know what I want to say, I just can’t always get to the words as easily.
- The short-term recall that suddenly feels harder. What was the name of that place we just went to? Did I mail that check I put aside yesterday?
- The weight of chronic forgetfulness. Why did I walk into this room? What was it that I needed? Will I be able to keep up with my friends and family?
- The concern for your future. Is this memory loss short term? Or here to stay?
- The fear of your family history repeating itself. My mother had Alzheimer’s and so did her sister, am I next?
It wasn’t easy. It might have even been tearful. It took courage and strength, and you did it. You knew you had to tell someone, and it felt easier to start with your health care provider than your family. After all, maybe there is an answer to why you’re feeling this way. Perhaps you will walk away with a plan or a solution. It’s off your chest and now you wait for a response.
Your health care provider was typing away while you spoke. Surely, they are taking notes on your concerns. Checking your history. Scheduling lab tests?
They look up from the computer, look you in the eye (finally) and say some version of, “Well, you’re getting older!”
Could it already starting in my 50s?
This is expected at age 64??
I’m in my 70s and doomed to feel this way from here on out???
You ask a few more questions but ultimately you feel discouraged. The concerns that have been weighing on your mind everyday for the past few months go unaddressed, normalized or disregarded.
Or maybe you schedule some labs, but you get the feeling it’s only to pacify you rather than to find the problem.
Now what? Is it really normal?
You can read more about what to do at the first signs of memory change here.
The truth is that memory loss is not a normal part of aging and sadly, many primary care physicians (PCPs) feel ill-equipped to address these issues.
According to the 2022 Facts and Figures from the Alzheimer’s Association: the vast majority of diagnoses for memory or cognitive changes were made by PCPs, though nearly 40% of PCPs report “only sometimes” or “never” being comfortable “personally making a diagnosis” or discussing memory issues.
In this survey approximately 10% of people age 45 and older reported subjective cognitive decline, or the self-perceived worsening of thinking and memory abilities, but 54% of those individuals did not consult a health care professional.
Additionally, 90% of PCPs surveyed reported that diagnosing Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) was important, especially with our baby boomers aging and experiencing significantly increased rates of memory loss and dementia, though less 50% of those PCPs felt comfortable discussing that diagnosis.
This is a problem for so many reasons:
- Your concerns are valid. No one knows your body and what you’re experiencing better than you. You deserve to feel seen, heard and validated.
- The statistics don’t lie. People clearly do not feel comfortable communicating cognitive and memory concerns with their physicians and physician’s don’t feel comfortable addressing and memory and cognitive concerns. This means that your change in cognition may go unaddressed.
- If early changes in memory and cognition go unaddressed, you miss a critical window for early intervention. Navigating memory and cognitive changes becomes harder the longer you wait. There is so much you can do to improve or resolve memory changes at the earliest signs of change. The number one regret I hear from my clients is, “I wish I would have started earlier.”
If you’re experiencing early cognitive and memory changes, communicating these changes to your health care provider is important.
It’s the only way to get early support, to assess medications and health changes that could be at the root cause of the issue and to begin exploring solutions.
Here are a few tips to successfully start the conversation:
- Be specific. Vague concerns are more likely to be written off as non-concerning. Example: "Lately, I feel more forgetful," does not express the same level of concern as, "In the past two days, I've struggled with my word-finding 6x to the point of frustration."
- Use examples. Citing specific scenarios to your physician shows them that you're serious about the concerns and provides them with more insight into the daily impact of your cognitive changes. Example: At work, I'm struggling to recall details from meetings and discussions that were otherwise easy to remember. I've tried taking notes but it feels disorganized and difficult to maintain attention to my notes and the meeting simultaneously. This is all started two months ago.
- Get their attention. It's ok to say, "I need you to stop taking notes for a moment. It's important that you hear what I'm trying to tell you."
- Be clear. If you're fearful of your family history, say so. There is no benefit to skirting your concerns. Being direct will get you closer to the right answers and testing faster.
If, however, you’ve expressed these concerns and they’ve gone unaddressed, don’t stop there.
Here’s what to do if your doctor fails to properly address your cognitive and memory concerns:
- Advocate for yourself. Nobody knows your body and experiences better than you. It took a lot of courage to admit to cognitive changes and to communicate those changes to your physician. Don’t accept a blanket age-related response like, “Well, you’re getting older,” without additional assessments, lab work or referrals. You deserve the time and energy to explore potential causes, sources, and solutions.
- Seek a second opinion. If you’ve expressed concerns, advocated for yourself and still you’re left feeling disregarded, seek a second opinion or insist on a referral to a specialist. The numbers show us that PCPs aren’t always equipped to address cognitive concerns. Neurologists can do imaging and additional testing. Memory clinics can help you get started. Your options are not limited to your PCP.
- Be selective in your health care team. Picture a table. Every person in every seat at this table needs to be on your side. While aging alone is not a sufficient excuse for memory loss, we all know that our health does change as we age. So, it becomes critical to have a healthcare team that works with you to address concerns. Don’t wait for a problem to find your support system. Research healthcare options, interview practices and build a team of practitioners that aligns with your needs now and as you age.
- Say yes to additional support. Treatments for memory loss are limited. Mostly, to drugs with little evidence to support their safety and efficacy. However, your lifestyle matters. In fact, it’s the best defense you have against chronic disease and cognitive decline. The way you eat, sleep, your stress, your environment, and your support all impact your memory and cognitive health. Memory health coaching can optimize all the systems involved in supporting your mind and memory as you age to overcome and prevent memory loss. You deserve to invest in support with a clear plan and a targeted approach to your memory health.
If you need support, I’d be happy to help you. Click here to schedule a free 30-minute call with Francine, The Memory Health Coach, to discuss your memory concerns and to hear about the Healthy Memory Method™ Program. If it’s a good fit, we can get started optimizing your memory health right away.