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Why You Need a Psychologist on Your Dementia Care Team

man inteviewing elderly patient

The experience of dementia is as individual as the patient, and that’s why the specialized training of a psychologist is so valuable on a dementia care team.

Dementia causes disturbances in cognition, memory, mood, and behavior. As a “syndrome cause by a variety of brain illnesses,” it can disrupt an individual’s “ability to perform everyday activities,” according to the World Health Organization. Licensed clinical psychologists are experts in assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of “psychological problems and the behavioral dysfunctions resulting from, or related to physical and mental health,” and “they play a major role in the promotion of healthy behavior, preventing diseases and improving patients' quality of life” (Wahass, C. Journal of Family & Community Medicine).

Comprehensive neurobehavioral assessment

“Alzheimer's disease is often misdiagnosed, possibly causing undue stress for those who don't have the disease but are told they do, and delays in treatment for others,” according to research reported by HealthDay. They also cite a study from St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto comparing clinical diagnosis with pathological findings: “Nearly 11 percent of those diagnosed with Alzheimer's in the clinic didn't have the disease. And, another nearly 11 percent who weren't diagnosed with Alzheimer's actually had the disease.”

When dementia is confirmed, is it Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia? What is the interplay with psychiatric and/or behavioral symptoms? What is the impact of other health conditions and medications? There are ways to answer these questions and others, and this requires specialized training and validated models. Interdisciplinary care at GuideStar Eldercare includes psychiatrists, neurologists, internists, geriatricians, psychologists, and psychiatrically trained nurse practitioners. Regarding the role of psychologists, Daniel Heiser, Psy. D., Senior Vice President, Behavioral Health at GuideStar Eldercare, explains, “Our training as psychologists puts us in an advantageous position to more accurately diagnose what’s going on with an individual.” GuideStar psychologists are experts in dementia care, and their clinical care conforms to unique GuideStar protocols.

Diagnosis essential to treatment

Neurocognitive, psychiatric, and behavioral symptoms of dementia are often complex, and they change over time. In order to effectively measure and track these symptoms and associated outcome data, GuideStar practitioners conduct comprehensive assessments that address cognitive functioning, neuropsychiatric and behavioral measures, and functional dementia severity. At GuideStar Eldercare, we believe firmly that diagnosis drives treatment. In turn, this approach leads to the best possible outcomes for the patient.

Easing suffering from dementia

Individuals with dementia often “suffer terribly,” explains Steven Posar, MD, Founder and CEO of GuideStar Eldercare. “They are often anxious, depressed and frightened.” An approach to diagnosis and care that is founded in strong behavioral and mental health skillsets can help ease this suffering for both patients and families. It’s essential to patient safety, functionality, and dignity for individuals with dementia.

Support for families

Coping with dementia is difficult for everyone. Dr. Heiser notes that psychologists can help family members by differentiating the dementia that can’t be cured from secondary symptoms that can be addressed. This “improves the quality of their lives and reduces their level of suffering,” he explains. What’s more, “In a difficult situation, we’re able to give families some hope that their loved one doesn’t have to suffer unnecessarily just because they have this disease.”

At GuideStar Eldercare, our neurological based model ensures proper care and diagnosis, which leads to better quality of care. Highly trained psychologists play a crucial role. Learn more about diagnosis in the presentation, Neurologic Versus Psychiatric Diagnoses in Dementia, and explore GuideStar Eldercare’s approach to easing suffering among dementia patients.

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