Learn More About Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Dr. Rebecca Reilly is a Geriatric physician specializing in Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

As we age, memory or cognitive functions age too. If you suspect a loved one is suffering from Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, think’s Geriatrics Specialist Dr. Rebecca Reilly is here to help. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions.

What is the number one thing you say to people who are afraid of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease?

The first thing I say to people afraid of a diagnosis is that the things we use to help with only help hold people steady. They don’t generally fix anything that has gone wrong, so the sooner we find out that someone has Alzheimer’s disease (or another Dementia), the better able we are to help. Sometimes other things masquerade as dementia, so finding and correcting another problem can make life much better.

If people suspect they, or a loved one, has Dementia, what is the first course of action you recommend?

If someone is concerned that they or a loved one have dementia, the best idea is to get checked out by their doctor. Their primary doctor may be able to identify another medical problem that interferes with brain function (i.e., thyroid disease, vitamin deficiency, depression, medication) and resolve it. If the problem is really dementia, a healthy lifestyle and medication may help. If the patient/family, or primary doctor, would like a more comprehensive evaluation with a multidisciplinary team, they can contact our Geriatric specialists at think.

What strides are being made in the maintenance/treatment of Alzheimer’s today?

There are several good interventions for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Diet, exercise, mental and social stimulation are all beneficial for the brain. There are new drugs being developed that will alter the course of the disease. Until we know more about these new drugs, we will continue to prescribe drugs that can help stabilize a person’s function to keep them as independent as possible. We are also learning a great deal about the role of sleep in brain health. In addition, there is good data that interventions to support both the patient and their support system, such as family and friends, can have a good effect on how well the patient does. One of the special things about think’s Geriatrics services is we have a very experienced geriatric-certified nurse and social worker available to work with patients and families and identify these supports in the community.

How do you coordinate care with the think Primary Care/Internal Medicine doctors who refer patients to Geriatric services?

It is very important that we maintain good communication with our patients’ Primary Care providers. Our nurse contacts the primary provider’s office once we get permission from the patient to get records. All of the reports we generate from our interactions with the patients go into the chart and are sent specifically to the patient’s Primary Care providers – as well as relevant specialists. If I have questions or issues of any urgency, I can message or email the providers in the think system. They are very responsive, and our communication is good.

What can family members do to aid in the care/maintenance of a loved one’s dementia or Alzheimer’s?

A patent’s support system is key in providing care and quality of life for everyone, but it is essential in treating a person with dementia. Loved ones provide the majority of care to persons with dementia, usually unpaid. Loved ones should attend medical appointments with the patient to learn all they can and join a support group to find out what other people in the same situation have found helpful. We hope to start a support group at think once COVID-19 restrictions have eased sufficiently to allow gatherings. There are so many ways for loved ones to help – from checking pillboxes and monitoring finances to helping establish a structured schedule for someone with dementia. It is part of the journey.

One last note from Dr. Reilly

I just want to be clear about the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia is the word we use to describe any disease that affects a person’s memory and thinking. There are several types of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common. It is a degenerative disease that starts for reasons we do not understand, and progressively attacks brain cells, starting in the part of the brain where short term memory is stored. There are other types of dementia. So everyone who has Alzheimer’s disease had dementia, but not everyone with dementia has Alzheimer’s disease.

If your loved one may be experiencing signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, speak with your Primary Care physician to schedule an appointment with Dr. Rebecca Reilly.

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