As family and friends we can see when loved ones are starting to change. But it’s often hard to know what that change really is. It could simply be someone getting forgetful as they age. It could be a transient ischemic attack (TIA), often labeled a mini-stroke. Or it could be the onset of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.

How we treat the person experiencing these changes varies based on what’s causing them. And there’s a way to find out if the changes are Alzheimer’s or dementia. Dr. Leilani Doty and the staff at the UF Memory Disorder Clinic can help. The clinic stands ready to help with the difficult diagnosis of memory disorders, offer treatment options and make recommendations about resources in the community that can provide support.

The symptoms of memory disorders go far beyond simply forgetting things. They could include language disorders (speaking, reading and/or writing), a decline in regular daily activities at home or work, spatial disorders such as getting lost in the neighborhood or home, facial and emotional recognition, difficulty with decisions-making, planning activities, or completing tasks, apathy and inappropriate behavior.

 And while one sees the changes in the person suffering from a memory disorder, there’s often a second victim of these changes.

“We are often diagnosing two people,” Dr. Doty said at a recent presentation for the Alzheimer’s Association. “We have to look at caregiver stress because, while that obviously impacts the caregiver, it can also impact the patient.”

Diagnosis of a memory disorder includes a full clinical evaluation, history and medical exam, and it goes beyond the patient.

“We want to hear from everyone – the patient, family and caregivers,” she said. “Everyone involved has a different perspective on what is happening to the patient. I will often hear different things from the patient and caregivers.”

Once a diagnosis is determined, the clinic helps with a treatment plan that may include some of the services available in our community, such as Al’z Place, Altrusa House, the Alzheimer’s Association, Elder Options and more.

Dr. Doty and the Memory Disorder Clinic also work with and keep track of the research being done on Alzheimer’s and other dementias. From that research, they make a few critical recommendations. First and foremost, be active.  Walking is good for the brain. Second, try to learn something new every day. There are also a number of dietary considerations. Dr. Doty’s strongest recommendation in that area is try to get as much of your daily vitamins and nutrients from good food rather than supplements.

Finally, Dr. Doty and the clinic serve as advocates for funding for research and treatment.

“We have 524,000 Alzheimer’s and related dementia cases in Florida,” she said. “We have the population. We don’t get the funding. We all need to urge our elected officials to be proactive about this.”

To learn more about the services provide by the UF Memory Disorder Clinic, call (352)273-5550 or go online to http://neurology.ufl.edu/divisions-2/memory-and-cognitive-disorders.

By David  Greenberg