If you or a loved one is experiencing memory problems, it might be time to get a dementia diagnosis from a medical professional.
It’s distressing to start forgetting people’s names or be unable to recall facts you used to remember easily. Maybe you find yourself in a room and wonder why you’re there. Or perhaps you’re struggling with the shopping because you now find it hard to write a list.
Many of us will experience some sort of mental deterioration at some stage in life. It’s a natural part of the ageing process. We’ll remember less, we’ll repeat ourselves more. Our thinking will become less agile, our mind will slow down.
So, if you’re beginning to feel that your mental ability is changing, should you worry? Is no longer being able to remember who scored the winning goal in the 1972 FA Cup Final a sign of early onset dementia? Or is it just part of getting old?
When should you get a dementia diagnosis?
The symptoms you’re likely to experience in the early stages depend on the type of dementia you’re suffering from. Understand the problems associated with memory loss and cognitive impairment so that you are aware of any changes happening to you.
For example, you might struggle to:
- Remember recent events (short-term memory)
- Concentrate on tasks, like reading or watching television
- Process information or follow instructions
- Communicate with or understand other people
- Control mood swings and changes in your personality, such as becoming less social
- Feel motivated to exercise or walk to the shops
- Perform everyday tasks like cleaning, cooking or gardening.
Why is it important to get a dementia diagnosis?
If you’re concerned that you may be showing the signs of dementia, it’s important to get a diagnosis. The sooner you get diagnosed, the sooner you can get a treatment plan in place, be prescribed the appropriate dementia medication, and slow down the pace of this progressive illness.
An early diagnosis means you can plan ahead and start putting your financial and legal affairs in order. It also allows you to make the necessary adjustments to day-to-day living, helping you to stay well for longer and improving your quality of life.
Here is our step-by-step guide to getting your dementia diagnosis:
1. Contact your GP
If you’re concerned you may have problems with your memory, the first step is to get in touch with your GP. Talking to your doctor is a safe and reassuring way for you to confide in someone you know and trust. They will either be able to put your mind at rest that you’re not suffering from dementia, or explain the likely diagnosis and guide you through a treatment plan.
Your GP will want to find out whether you’re suffering from an underlying treatable condition, which is causing you to experience the symptoms of dementia. For example, you may have a thyroid deficiency, vitamin B12 deficiency, or be suffering from the side effects of an infection or medication.
To help diagnose any of these conditions, the GP may:
- Carry out a physical examination
- Take blood tests
- Ask questions to check how your mind is working
- Refer you for a brain scan to explore whether your symptoms might be caused by physical damage to the brain from a tumour or stroke
Ask you questions about the history of your symptoms, including when they started and whether there’s any family history of dementia.
2. Memory and cognitive functioning tests
Your GP may carry out some dementia diagnostic tests, asking you some straightforward questions to check your memory and the ability of your brain to reason, think, process information and solve problems.
These might include:
- Telling you someone’s name and address, and asking you to recall it
- Asking you today’s date
- Showing you a picture of a blank clock face and asking you to fill in the numbers and draw hands to show a particular time
- Asking you to recall something that recently happened in the news
- Asking you to complete a drawing
Asking you to name common items from pictures.
3. Referral to a memory clinic or specialist
If your GP decides that your cognitive impairment goes beyond ‘normal’ ageing, and it is not caused by other mental or physical conditions, you are likely to be referred to a memory clinic or dementia specialist, for further examinations and tests. The type of specialist you’re referred to will depend on the kind of symptoms you’re experiencing, and your age.
A number of different consultants and specialists are able and qualified to diagnose dementia. You may be referred to a:
- General adult psychiatrist
- Old age psychiatrist
This stage of your diagnosis gives you access to experts in the dementia field, who will look more deeply into your history and symptoms to provide a more precise dementia diagnosis.
They’ll also recommend the most appropriate treatment and dementia medication for you. The process will be reassuring for you and your family, and will help you prepare for the months and years ahead.
It’s important to make the most of your time with your specialist:
- Write down any questions you want to ask, so you don’t forget them during your appointment, when you may be feeling anxious and distracted.
- Be sure to ask the specialist to address any concerns you have about your dementia, and for advice on how you can best live with the condition going forward.
- Take a friend or family member to support you, and to remind you to ask all the questions you need or want to ask.
By the way, Allan Clarke scored the 1972 FA Cup winner. He was playing for Leeds United, against Arsenal. Also playing that day was 36-year-old Leeds defender Jack Charlton, who suffered from dementia and died in 2020.
If you are worried about memory loss affecting yourself or a family member, a dementia assessment can provide comfort and peace of mind. Call us on 0330 124 1970 to arrange a free, no-obligation, Mini-ACE cognitive test (worth £100).
Alternatively, please get in touch with the team at MemoryClinix.
Written By Al Brunker, November 2021.
Updated by Barry Hunt, March 2022.
Reviewed by Dr Elin Davies, Consultant Psychiatrist (MBBS FRCA MRCPsych)