If you think that you or someone you are close to is experiencing symptoms of dementia, make an appointment to see a GP.
First of all, you may be able to rule it out. But if you are living with dementia, the earlier you are diagnosed the better, as you can improve your quality of life with early support and treatment.
There isn’t one single test that can diagnose dementia. A dementia diagnosis is based on the results of a series of assessments, which will be carried out by your GP or by a specialist at a memory clinic or hospital.
Initial assessment by a GP
When you first talk to your GP about the symptoms you’ve been experiencing, they will ask you some questions about how long you have been having the symptoms and how they are affecting you in your day to day life.
They will also talk to you about your medical history and current health situation outside of the dementia symptoms, and will check any existing conditions and current medications are being managed properly.
Your GP is unlikely to make a diagnosis of dementia on the spot after this brief discussion. However, if the GP believes the symptoms could indicate dementia, they will recommend taking some mental ability tests, known as cognitive assessments.
Cognitive assessments are mental ability tests that are carried out by your GP or by a specialist at a memory clinic or hospital.
These are designed to check your mental abilities such as memory, language, perception, understanding and reason, among other things.
The assessment might ask you to do a number of different things, for example:
- repeat certain words or phrases, or recall these later in the test
- identify different pictures, or name as many of something as they can (animals, for example)
- do some simple maths
- follow simple commands
- do some simple drawing, such as copying shapes
The simplest assessment might take around five minutes and more comprehensive cognitive assessment might take up to two hours.
While there are online dementia tests freely available, it’s important that you need to have an assessment administered by a medical professional in order to get a proper diagnosis.
Blood tests and MRI scans
In addition to a cognitive assessment, sometimes blood pressure may also be checked, blood tests carried out and in some cases an MRI scan is useful.
Blood tests will be to check that your symptoms are not due to another cause, such as impaired liver or kidney function, or a serious vitamin deficiency.
Once these tests have ruled out other causes, a brain scan may be carried out. This scan will look for evidence of other problems that could also cause symptoms, such as a stroke or brain tumours.
The scan will help to confirm the dementia and the type of disease causing the dementia – read more about the different types of dementia.
If you have been diagnosed with dementia
If you have received a diagnosis of dementia, this can be a scary and upsetting time for you and your family. You may also experience feelings of shock.
Take the time that you need to adjust to this news. You GP will handle any treatment, medication or monitoring that you need, but when you feel ready, there are some other practical things that you might want to think about after your diagnosis.
Looking after yourself
When caring for someone it is important to also look after yourself, view our tops tips on how to best do this
Types of Elderly Care
Guide to the different care services available to the elderly
Where to look for care
Many of us need some extra help in the form of care, this article helps advise on where to start looking for this