Dementia diagnosis – what you need to know
Many people begin to worry they have Alzheimer’s disease after a family member raises memory problems. For others, it’s because they recognise memory problems or memory loss in themselves.
Like many diseases, getting an early diagnosis will help you plan for the future. That starts by adjusting daily activities, which can slow the onset of the condition.
In this guide, we go through the usual stages of an Alzheimer’s diagnosis and the steps your family should take to deal with it effectively.
How to get a dementia diagnosis
Seeing your GP
If you’re worried your loved one has Alzheimer’s, it’s best to encourage them to see their GP. Although in doing so, it’s essential not to start panicking too early.
Issues with memory can be caused by a number of different conditions. Among others, it may be a mild cognitive impairment, anxiety, depression, stress.
But it may also be another form of dementia, such as vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies, or mixed dementia.
They’ll determine the cause of memory issues by undertaking a physical examination and basic tests. They may perform some simple neuropsychological tests, such as pen and paper exercises. Sometimes blood tests will be arranged to confirm there’s not something else at issue.
Your GP may refer you onto more specialised support to undertake further tests to rule out or confirm a dementia diagnosis.
Mental ability tests
The next likely stage will be undertaken at a specialist memory clinic. These are expert units staffed by medical professionals practised in dementia. They’ll perform a number of different memory tests.
The scope of these tests will range from awareness to communication, language to vision and orientation to attention.
While the results of mental ability tests provide a good indication of someone’s brain functionality, they’re not conclusive. Further testing will always be performed.
While the results of mental ability tests provide a good indication of someone’s brain functionality, they’re not conclusive.
While a blood test won’t confirm a dementia diagnosis, they will rule out other conditions that lead to memory loss. Common causes of memory issues include liver, kidney and thyroid issues. As well as diabetes and certain vitamin deficiencies.
As Alzheimer’s reduces brain functionality by physically eroding the tissue, a brain scan allows doctors to view potential damage. An MRI is usually used for this purpose. However, it’s likely a CT scan could also be used to check for a brain tumour or stroke.
In the future, more will be on available. Clinical trials are developing more advanced systems.
Receiving a diagnosis
It’s only after your loved one has undergone a variety of tests that they’ll receive a diagnosis. While you can always ask for a second opinion, it’s unlikely to be a misdiagnosis. Generally, the NHS will send a letter to talk with a specialist. During this appointment, they’ll talk through the evidence to give you peace of mind it’s correct.
What to do after a dementia diagnosis
There’s no right or wrong way to feel about an Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis. There is a wide range of feelings you might feel, ranging from an initial sense of shock, to denial and then sadness or guilt about the potential impact on the wider family.
Fear and worry are obviously also common, this is a serious life-changing moment that spells the beginning of a new chapter. If you’re the relation of someone living with recently diagnosed Alzheimer’s, it’s important to realise that you’re not alone. Help is always available.
Contact the Alzheimer’s Society
The UK’s leading charity for Alzheimer’s and dementia is able to provide your family with a range of advice and, as well as online and offline support. They run the National Dementia Helpline, which you can call on 0300 222 11 22. Alternatively, you’re able to join their online forum, Talking Point.
Let the family and friends know
It can feel like a big hurdle to jump, but letting those closest to you know about your loved one’s condition provides you with a larger support network. In the early stages, you don’t have to go through every detail of the condition at once. Prompt the wider family to discover information from trusted sources such as the NHS, Alzheimer’s Society and Dementia UK.
Prompt the wider family to discover information from trusted sources such as the NHS, Alzheimer’s Society and Dementia UK.
Meet people in your situation
From Age UK befriending services to special coffee mornings for those living with dementia, it’s likely they’ll be a way you can find families in similar situations to yours. Search your postcode on the Alzheimer’s Society website for support near you and discover what’s available. Simply visiting a memory cafe can be a great way to establish a wide support network.
Consider talking therapy
Any dementia diagnosis can be traumatic for the rest of the family. Talking therapies can be a really important tool if a diagnosis is impacting mental health. There are a number of options available, including cognitive behavioural therapy and counselling. Family sessions can be particularly useful.
What to do next…
Lasting power of attorney
Lasting power of attorney Quick summary A lasting power of attorney is a legal status that puts you in charge of your loved one’s choices…
What is an advance statement?
What is an advance statement? An advance statement is a written or verbal document expressing your loved one’s wishes when they no longer have the…
Read more on dementia
The power of complementary therapies in dementia care
The power of complementary therapies in dementia…
What is a memory clinic?
Memory clinic: What is it? Memory clinics…
Paying for care
Paying for care: A four-step plan to get funding
Get clarity on paying for care Start by using our funding calculator…
NHS Continuing Healthcare – how to get all your care costs covered
NHS Continuing Healthcare – your complete guide NHS Continuing Healthcare covers every…
Elderly benefits – get what you’re entitled to
Benefits for the elderly – how to top up your income Whether…
Local authority funding – how most people fund their care
Local authority care funding – everything you need to know If you…
Using an equity release scheme to fund live-in care
Using an equity release scheme to fund live-in care Paying for care…
Read customer stories
Every family we help is unique. For each, there are different triggers that finally motivate them to give us a call. Here are some of their stories:
Joanne’s story – care to support mild dementia
Joanne’s story – care that keeps Mum in her dancing shoes Joanne and her mum, Patricia, have been with Elder since 2017. Patricia has mild dementia, but that doesn’t stop…
Wendy’s story – moving from hourly care
Wendy’s story – moving from hourly care Mum has been disabled for a few years now. She used to have hourly care visits, but last summer she sadly fell and…
Jim’s story – care after hospital discharge
Jim’s story – care after hospital discharge Helen and her dad, Jim (92), have been with Elder since May 2020. Tabayi or ‘Tabby’ is their primary carer. Helen’s sister Ruth…
Sue’s story – care for a WW2 veteran
Sue’s story – care for a WW2 veteran My mother is an amazing woman. She is very quick-witted and has lived a full life, even having a stint as a…
Jill’s story – personalised dementia care
Jill’s story – personalised dementia care Jill has been with Elder since Jan 2020, care is for her mum (Peggy) who is 97 with dementia. Jennifer is their primary carer. …
Jan’s story – care for an elderly couple
Jan’s story – care for an elderly couple Jan has been with Elder since 2017, care is for her mum (Jean) and dad (Fred). Jean and Frederick are in their…
Ian’s story – live-in care advised by local council
Ian’s Story – live-in care advised by local council It started with Dad’s health deteriorating, followed by a hospital visit. At that point, we already had morning and evening visits…