Written by Josh Horsman
A diagnosis of Dementia is sometimes treated with fear, resignation and defeatism but the reality is that many people with the condition are able to live happy, fulfilling and healthy lives. The important thing is to see a medical professional and get an official diagnosis. Whilst this might seem a daunting prospect, it is the gateway to receiving the support and care you need to live well with your symptoms. So, if you are experiencing memory-issues or other possible symptoms of Dementia, it’s important to seek the advice of your doctor even if it is just to rule out any serious condition.
Here’s a useful guide to how Dementia is diagnosed:
1. See your Doctor
If you are in any doubt about whether the symptoms you are experiencing are something more serious than ‘normal’ signs of ageing, then your first port of call should be your Primary care physician (PCP) or GP. It may be that your doctor is able to quickly rule out anything further and your visit will simply give you peace of mind, but if they suspect your symptoms are the sign of an underlying condition you will have taken the first steps towards a diagnosis and receiving the treatment you need. Either way, it is important to report your concerns to your doctor.
2. Initial Observation
Your doctor will ask you some basic questions about your symptoms and related aspects of your personal health and then give you a physical examination. You will also be asked to take written and/or oral memory tests. These tests are nothing to worry about and will not produce an instant diagnosis, but will instead give your medical professionals an assessment of your general cognitive function.
Your doctor may then make arrangements for you to have a blood test to provide further information to make an informed overall assessment of your cognitive and physical health and to rule out possible conditions.
3. Referral to a Dementia Specialist
Dementia is not an easy condition to diagnose and so your doctor is unlikely to be able to confidently assess you as having Dementia unless your symptoms are more severe. If they are not able to rule it out however, they will then refer you to a Dementia specialist. The specialist might be based in a memory clinic, working with other professionals who are experts in diagnosing, caring for and advising people with dementia, and their families.
It is important to approach a meeting with such a specialist with an open-mind, rather than with fear. Take some time beforehand to organise your thoughts and prepare any questions you might have to ensure that you maximise your time with the specialist.
Following initial consultation, the specialist will then likely arrange for you to undergo further testing to provide a more accurate diagnosis. Common tests for Dementia include MRI scans and CT scans, which are both common and safe procedures designed to provide your doctors with a detailed assessment of your brain functionality so they can provide an assured diagnosis. You may also be asked to take further, more in-depth, written and/or oral memory tests.
4. Dealing with a Diagnosis
Following consultation with a specialist and the results of your tests, your doctor should be able to give you a well-informed diagnosis. They will first give you the option if you’d like to know the diagnosis. Once you know for sure that you have Dementia, your doctor will explain what your diagnosis means, the type of Dementia you have and their advice for your future treatment. This is also the right time to ask all the questions you might have about your diagnosis.
Your doctor should also be able to advise you about other organisations which can offer you support and where to find any financial and legal advice you may need as a result of your diagnosis.
5. Follow-up Support
Following a diagnosis, your doctor will not simply leave you to your own devices. They will want to arrange future, regular check-ups to keep track of your condition. The specialists who assessed you may also want you to see them for regular check-ups, especially in the early stages. Your doctor will also be able to connect you to local support groups and organisations which exist to help and support those living with Dementia and their family.
As part of your initial treatment, your PCP or specialist may also inform you about medications which you could take to help control your symptoms. However prescription drugs are not effective for everyone with Dementia, so this will depend entirely on your specific case. For more information on treatments for Dementia, read our blog.
In the initial stages after a diagnosis, it is also important to plan for the future, as Dementia is a progressive condition with symptoms worsening over time. This planning should include discussing future care with family members and getting your financial and legal matters in order to ensure your future treatment and support.