Primary Care Physicians Can Help Identify Signs of Dementia

Staff Report

Thursday, June 23rd, 2022

June is Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month and Mark Sexton, M.D., a physician with Piedmont Physicians at Green Island, wants his patients to be aware of the signs of cognitive decline, dementia, or a potential diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. 

“Typically, the first thing that brings a patient in with these concerns is memory loss,” said Dr. Sexton. “It is important to determine whether the memory loss is short term, like forgetting why you walked in a room, or long term, like not recognizing people. We are more concerned with the long term.” 

Other parts of the assessment include a medical history, a miniature cognitive test, and checking levels of Vitamin B12, because a deficiency can lead to memory loss.  

“One part of the cognitive test is asking a patient to draw a clock reading a certain time,” said Dr. Sexton. “For people in the early stages of dementia, their visual and spatial perceptions tend to be off and they have a hard time positioning the numbers and which hands of the clock go where.” 

Dr. Sexton also screens patients concerned about Alzheimer’s with questions about depression, which can mimic some of the signs and symptoms of dementia. 

“Sometimes, treating the depression can lead to improvements in cognition and memory,” said Dr. Sexton. 

If dementia or Alzheimer’s is suspected, a patient will usually undergo an MRI on the brain. Doctors are looking for structural changes, brain atrophy or shrinking, or enlarged ventricles. Poor blood flow in the brain or untreated high blood pressure or diabetes can lead to vascular dementia.

Some ways to prevent Alzheimer’s or dementia include regular exercise, proper nutrition, seeing friends and family, and staying mentally active. If you notice signs or symptoms of dementia, time is of the essence. 

“Patients should seek the advice of their primary care physician,” said Dr. Sexton. “The doctor can prescribe some medications that can slow the progression, refer the patient to a neurologist or geriatrician, and connect caregivers with important resources.” 

One valuable resource Piedmont offers caregivers is Sixty Plus, a program which promotes healthy aging, offers a continuum of geriatric specific services and programs, and provides education, support, and counseling for older adults and their caregivers. 

More information about Sixty Plus can be found at