How to Find the Right Doctor to Manage Your Parent’s Dementia

Lisa Fields
Added: 06.24.2022
5 minutes read
Many adults don’t go to the doctor regularly or have ongoing relationships with primary-care physicians. But once someone is diagnosed with dementia, it’s important for them to establish and maintain contact with a doctor who can monitor their health.

Why is consistent care necessary for an aging parent with dementia? A doctor who sees your parent regularly can:
  • Keep tabs on their dementia. Regularly scheduled appointments can help doctors track how dementia progresses over time, says geriatrician David Hackethorn, MD, assistant professor of internal medicine at Texas A&M Health Science Center in College Station. Going with your parent to appointments can help you learn about and better manage dementia-related behavioral problems.
  • Manage other health conditions. An older adult with dementia may receive care for other chronic health conditions. “The patient has other disease processes – maybe hypertension, diabetes, heart failure – that need to be attended to,” Hackethorn says. 
  • Communicate about your mental health. Caring for someone with dementia may lead to emotional burnout. You may not look for signs, but your parent’s doctor may. “I oftentimes will ask family members, ‘Are you getting depressed?’ so I’m actually doing a dual visit, primarily directed at the patient, but also being very akin to what is going on with the caregiver,” Hackethorn says.
Three different types of doctors commonly treat patients with dementia:
  • Primary-care physicians, who are sometimes called general practitioners or internists; they treat adults of all ages and manage a variety of health conditions, including dementia
  • Neurologists, who are specialists who treat conditions affecting the brain and nervous system, including dementia
  • Geriatricians, who are primary-care physicians who received additional specialized training to treat older adults and the health conditions that may affect people aged 65 and over, including dementia
To find the right doctor for your parent, consider the following questions:

Does your parent already have a primary-care physician?
If your parent has an established relationship with a primary-care physician, it may be in their best interest to keep seeing the doctor who has known them for years.
Sometimes, primary-care physicians work with neurologists when patients have dementia, which may provide your parent with more specialized care while keeping them in communication with a trusted doctor.
How much experience treating dementia do primary-care physicians have?
Don’t assume that every doctor sees dementia patients.
“There might be a great deal of variation in their experience and knowledge base,” Hackethorn says. “A doctor who’s been practicing for 10 years plus – they most likely have had experience in taking care of elderly patients and those with dementia.”
Can friends recommend a primary-care physician who treats dementia?
It may be challenging to find a doctor you love if you choose someone randomly off of a list from your insurance company. Ask around for recommendations, especially if you know people who have loved ones with dementia.
“Hopefully by talking to friends, you’ll find somebody that has the demeanor that you’re seeking in a primary-care practice physician,” Hackethorn says.
Does your parent have other medical conditions, like diabetes or heart disease?
Someone with a complex health history plus dementia may benefit from seeing a geriatrician, who specializes in caring for older adults and can spend more time with each patient.
“People with dementia end up in our office and usually have several other medical problems that the primary-care physician doesn’t necessarily have as much time for,” Hackethorn says. “They end up with the geriatrician becoming the primary-care physician.” 
Do you live near a university hospital or large medical center?
There aren’t as many geriatricians as primary-care physicians nationwide, so you may have trouble finding one, unless you live in a city or near an academic medical center. If one isn’t available in your area, your parent should receive quality care from a primary-care physician and/or neurologist.