Structured approach to patients with memory difficulties in family practice

Can Fam Physician. 2013 Mar;59(3):249-54.


Objective: To provide family physicians with a structured approach to patients presenting with memory difficulties.

Sources of information: The approach is based on an accredited memory clinic training program developed by the Centre for Family Medicine Memory Clinic in partnership with the Ontario College of Family Physicians.

Main message: Use of a structured clinical reasoning approach can assist physicians in achieving an accurate diagnosis in patients presenting with memory difficulties. Delirium, depression, and reversible causes need to be excluded, followed by differentiation among normal cognitive aging, mild cognitive impairment, and dementia. Obtaining collateral history and accurate functional assessment are critical. Common forms of dementia can be clinically differentiated by the order in which symptoms appear and by how cognitive deficits evolve over time. Typically, early signs of Alzheimer dementia involve impairment in episodic memory, whereas dementia involving predominantly vascular causes might present with early loss of executive function and relatively preserved episodic memory. Frontotemporal dementia and Lewy body spectrum disorders might have early loss of executive function and visuospatial function, as well as characteristic clinical features.

Conclusion: A clinical reasoning approach can help physicians achieve early, accurate diagnoses that can guide appropriate management and improve care for patients with memory difficulties.

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms*
  • Decision Support Techniques*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Family Practice
  • Humans
  • Memory Disorders / diagnosis*