Editor’s Note: This content is not medical advice, nor is it a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
When a loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, many caregivers wonder where to turn for help. Most caregivers aren’t already experts on the disease or experienced medical professionals. They are children, grandchildren, siblings, and friends—and they’re often caretaking for the very first time.
That’s why it’s so important to make the most of your conversations with your loved one’s doctor. Beyond what can be read in brochures or learned from a support group, a caretaker’s best resource can be the doctor who has firsthand knowledge of their patient’s health.
Consider asking a few of these questions at your loved one’s next appointment:
What kind of alternative or supportive treatments do you recommend?
The doctor will likely discuss treatment options with you upon a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. But if your loved one has been taking a particular medication for some time and is not happy with the results or the side effects, it may be time to revisit this conversation.
There are several types of medications used to treat Alzheimer’s in addition to alternative medicines and therapies. The doctor may be able to analyze how your loved one is responding to the initial medication and make a recommendation for a second option. It can take months or even years for some patients, their caretakers, and their doctor to find a treatment option that produces the best results.
Read: The Value of Person-Centered Care
What are the potential side effects of the treatment they are receiving?
If your loved one has been taking medication—some medicines can be effective in slowing the progression of this disease—the potential side effects were likely discussed when it was first prescribed. But after the person has been on the medication for some time, you will have had enough opportunity to observe their reactions and responses to the treatment. It’s worthwhile to ask this question periodically to either confirm that those behaviors are indeed expected side effects, or to alert the doctor of something that could or should not be a side effect.
Doctors sometimes also prescribe psychotropic medications to treat behaviors associated with Alzheimer’s. But these drugs have a black box warning (the strictest handed out by the Food and Drug Administration) regarding the risk of premature death when used by people with dementia. This is a perfect example of why it’s imperative for caretakers to ask about potential side effects of any drug that is prescribed.
Read: How to Manage Challenging Alzheimer’s Behaviors Without Antipsychotics
What are the positive signs I should be watching for?
It’s easy to single out the side effects of a drug and only focus on the negative ways that your loved one is being affected. Lost in those observations are the ways in which the drug is working and making a positive impact on their quality of life.
After your loved one has started taking a medication, ask the doctor what signs you should be looking for that the current course of treatment is working correctly. Not only does this help caregivers gauge the well-being of their loved one, but it provides important reassurance that they are providing meaningful care.
Watch: Shifting the Perception of Alzheimer’s Disease and Creating Positive Outcomes
How will the disease progress from here?
This should be an ongoing dialogue throughout the caregiving journey. It’s important for caretakers to know what types of behaviors they can expect their loved one to exhibit next. This can be vital in preparing the caregiver mentally, emotionally, and physically for the next stage of the disease.
It’s also critical to continue to discuss the progression of the disease so that unexpected, treatable complications are not missed along the way.
Read: Learn About Cognitive Assessment Tools
What other health complications can stem from Alzheimer’s?
Complications of Alzheimer’s can include injuries from falls, malnutrition and dehydration, failure of body systems, and an increased risk of infections, so this is a question that should be asked soon after diagnosis and throughout the disease’s progression. Alzheimer’s patients are at risk for different complications at various stages of the disease, and having this discussion with the doctor can help caretakers take preventive measures—being proactive rather than reactive is key.
Read: How to Reduce Weight Loss Associated with Alzheimer’s Disease
Are there any clinical trials you would recommend?
This question might not come up early on, but may be worth asking after other medications have been tried. If your loved one is experiencing harmful or painful side effects to their medication or you just aren’t seeing the desired results, a clinical trial may be worth considering. The doctor may be able to make some recommendations based on your loved one’s condition and overall health.
Visit: Alzheimer's Association TrialMatch
Are they still safe living at home?
Many people suffering from Alzheimer’s may eventually need to move out of their homes and into an assisted living or nursing care facility. It may take years for your loved one to reach this point, so it doesn’t always come up in conversation with the doctor much during the early stages of the disease. But once you notice your loved one beginning to struggle more with eating, bathing, or other basic tasks, it may be wise to ask their doctor about the risks of continuing to live at home.
Read: Tips for Reducing Transfer Trauma
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lee Elliott is a writer from the Raleigh, NC area. He loves meditation, running, and long walks with his Yorkshire Terrier. You can find more of his writing here.