Information on this page is for anyone who wants to know more about how a diagnosis of dementia is made.
The information here does not replace any advice that doctors, pharmacists or nurses may give you but provides some background information which we hope you will find helpful.
Why diagnosis of dementia is important
Diagnosing dementia, and which type of dementia someone has, is important. It will ensure that people can get the right support and treatments and can plan for the future. Your GP is the first person to contact if you have any worries about your health. If your GP suspects dementia, you are likely to be referred to a memory clinic or specialist. These specialists may include old age psychiatrists, geriatricians, neurologists, clinical psychologists and memory nurses.
When you see a doctor or nurse with concerns about your memory or thinking, they will ask you about your symptoms and medical history. They may also speak with your partner or someone close to you about your symptoms. You may be asked some questions relating to your memory and have a physical check-up.
There is a range of memory tests available, and you might take one or more of these during your assessment. Because dementia gets worse over time, the tests may be repeated, perhaps after six to 12 months, to see if there have been any changes.
Other tests, including blood tests and brain scans, could be arranged. Very occasionally, your doctor may arrange an EEG (brain wave test) or a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) if they suspect a rare form of dementia. In a lumbar puncture, a needle is used to take a sample of fluid from the bottom of someone’s spine. Together all of these things will help a doctor find out about any problems in memory or thinking and the likely cause.
If you are assessed for the possibility of having Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, you can choose not to know the diagnosis. You can also decide who else can be told about your diagnosis.
If you, or someone close to you, are given a diagnosis of dementia, you may have many questions about what to do next. It is important to ask your doctor about local services that can help you and your family. You might be entitled to benefits and other types of support. For further advice and support you can contact one of the organisations listed in our caring for someone with dementia section.
This information was updated in November 2016 and is due for review in November 2018. Please contact us if you would like a version with references.