Timely assessment and diagnosis in response to concerns about dementia is essential. It can rule out treatable causes, or provide the gateway to accessing early help, information, treatment and support for those who do have dementia. The earlier help is sought, the greater the potential benefits are, in terms of maximising wellbeing, treatment outcomes, managing and coping with the condition, and planning for the future.

How is dementia diagnosed?

How to get an assessment

Step 1 - Your GP:

Becoming forgetful does not necessarily mean that you have dementia. Some decline in memory can be an effect of normal ageing. It can also be a symptom of stress, depression or a number of other mental or physical health conditions. Therefore, diagnosing dementia can be complicated, especially in the early stages. In all cases your GP is the first port of call and will assess the person through:

  • Taking background information - such as when and how the changes were noticed, how the changes present, and a personal and family medical history. These help determine if the pattern of change suggests dementia and to evaluate any risks.
  • Physical examinations and tests − such as blood and urine tests. These help to identify and/or exclude other treatable conditions that may be causing the presenting problems.
  • Mental examination - some brief screening questions to examine thinking and memory functions. These indicate whether further assessment is required or not.

At the end of the assessment, your GP should clearly communicate their findings. Dependent upon the outcome, your GP may want to refer on to a memory assessment service or other specialist for a fuller assessment, to determine if a diagnosis is present or not and get the help and support needed.

Step 2 - A memory assessment service: diagnosis and early intervention:

A memory assessment service comprises specialist staff skilled in the assessment and treatment of people experiencing dementia, including consultant psychiatrists, mental health nurses, occupational therapists, psychologist, social workers and support workers. The memory team work together to provide specialist assessments for people with suspected dementia, where other common causes have been excluded by your GP. The assessments provided build upon the tests and history started by your GP, and where required, request additional investigations, such as head scans or further blood tests to further support the process of diagnosis.

Following assessment, the memory team will either signpost on to other appropriate services, or discharge back to your GP if a diagnosis of dementia is not the cause of the problems. Where a diagnosis of dementia is made, then information and appropriate early treatment and intervention options and advice are discussed and provided, and an individual care plan detailing the individual's care needs completed. Your GP will be informed of the findings to ensure continuity of care and signposting to appropriate support networks and organisations for post-diagnosis support is provided.

The benefits of a diagnosis

Whilst dementia is not curable, a proper and timely diagnosis is essential for many reasons. The main potential benefits of a timely diagnosis include:

  • To rule out other conditions that may have symptoms similar to dementia and that may be treatable including depression, infections, vitamin and thyroid deficiencies and brain tumours
  • For early access to treatment (both medical and non-medical) to relieve symptoms and maximise individual wellbeing and functioning
  • To enable people to better understand the condition and thus better adapt and cope
  • To access information and practical advice on how to manage and maximise wellbeing for an individual experiencing dementia
  • To access support, advice and networking from/with resources such as social services, voluntary agencies and support groups to support your needs (individual and/or carer)
  • To support life and financial planning - with regard to plans and wishes for the future
  • To 'open the door' for future care needs
  • For legal planning - such as Power of Attorney, advanced directives

Together, the information and support enables individuals to understand what is happening, so as to make informed decisions about care and access the treatment and support that suits their needs. 

If you are still unsure and need support you should contact your GP.


 

Useful contacts: 

Alzheimer's Society Southwest London
Phone: 020 8877 0033
Web:www.alzheimers.org.uk
Email: swlondon@alzheimers.org