Diagnosing dementia

It is not uncommon for many of us to worry when we forget where we put our keys, where we misplaced our glasses or where we left one of our shoes, leading to us hopping around for the rest of the day.

Not only are we an ageing population, we also have so many things going on in daily life, so much information to take in with our brains constantly trying to decipher what is and isn’t worth storing.

However, when this becomes a regular occurrence and you find yourself going into a room and not remembering why or starting to continually forget people’s names or dates or frequently struggle with planning or thinking clearly then it is really important to visit a GP.

Why it is so important to see a GP

As a society we have a tendency to immediately associate memory difficulties with dementia. However, there are other conditions that can lead to changes in memory and changes in being able to think clearly, which need to be ruled out before a diagnosis of dementia can be made and the GP is the best person to do this.

These can include:

  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Infections (especially urine infection)
  • Thyroid changes
  • Medication
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Epilepsy

If it is not any of these conditions and is dementia, it is imperative to know what type. This helps with the understanding of the condition and therapies and treatments that may help to improve the symptoms.

GPs will generally:

  • Ask about your general health and wellbeing
  • Ask about the symptoms being experienced.
  • Carry out blood tests
  • Carry out a memory or cognitive test

Dementia can often be difficult to diagnose, especially when symptoms are mild so if a GP is unsure, they will refer you to a specialist in dementia.  They are usually based at memory clinics, alongside other experts in diagnosing, caring for and advising people with dementia.

The specialist will carry out a more detailed memory test and may want to organise brain scans such as a CT or MRI scan to see the brain in more detail. Following on from the results of these, the specialist will be able to make a diagnosis.

If the diagnosis is dementia

The specialist should explain what having dementia might mean for you and give you and your family time to ask any questions. They will also discuss:

  • Symptoms and how the illness might develop
  • Treatments
  • Details of support services in the area (such as a Dementia Adviser or Admiral Nurse)
  • Details of support groups in the area (such as Memory Cafés and Singing for the Brain)
  • Where to find financial and legal advice
  • Information on wellbeing and physical activity

Receiving a diagnosis of dementia can be really difficult for both yourself and loved ones to digest and it is ok to take as much time as you need to absorb the information … and to note that there is still very much a great life to be lived, it might just take some adaptations.

x Rebecca x

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