Diagnosing dementia

1st March 2017

Diagnosing dementia, along with which type of dementia somebody has ,will help ensure that they can get the right support and treatment for their needs.  A diagnosis can also help to plan for the future. If you have concerns that your parent or elderly relative is showing symptoms of dementia, their GP is the first person to contact.

If the GP also suspects dementia, then they will refer your relative to a memory clinic or specialist to obtain an accurate diagnosis. These specialists may include old age psychiatrists, geriatricians, neurologists, clinical psychologists and memory nurses.

Early Signs of dementia

Dementia does not always show in the same way for everybody.  Factors such as personality, general health and social situation are all important factors in determining the impact of the dementia.  Although it affects people differently, the most common symptoms of dementia are:

  • Memory loss
  • Problems with speech and reading
  • Disorientation of place and time
  • Issues with keeping track of things
  • Misplacing items
  • Changes in mood, behaviour and personality
  • Depression
  • Becoming confused easily

Symptoms of the natural ageing process may appear to be similar to many of these, but should not be confused with dementia.  We have put together a list of the top 10 early signs of dementia, which gives more precise symptoms to look out for.

Tests for diagnosing dementia

There are different tests available to help with diagnosing dementia that can be arranged by the GP.

Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE)

This is a widely used test which is used to assess a number of different mental abilities, including:

  • Short and long term memory
  • Attention Span
  • Concentration
  • Language and communication skills
  • Ability to plan
  • Ability to understand instructions

This examination is not used to directly test for dementia, however it is used to assess the level of mental impairment that the individual with dementia may have. This may be continued over different time points to check for any deterioration.

Blood tests for dementia

If it is suspected that the person has dementia, the specialist may suggest a blood test to check their overall level of health. These blood tests can also rule out other conditions which could be causing their symptoms.

Dementia brain scans

Once other simpler tests such as the MMSE and blood test have ruled out any other conditions, then the Doctor may suggest a brain scan. There are two different scans – the first is a CT scan, this will look to make sure that it is not a stroke or brain tumour that is causing the symptoms, but will not say if the person has dementia. The second type of scan is a MRI scan, this will be able to confirm a diagnosis of dementia by looking at the structure of the brain.

Diagnosing dementia, what next?

Once a diagnosis has been given you will have many questions about the short term and long term future. It’s important that to ask the Doctor about local services that can help support the family.  Plus, your parents may be entitled to financial benefits and other types of support.

We know how it feels when a loved one receives a diagnosis of dementia.  Try not to panic. There is lots of information and support out there to help you understand dementia and how to help those who have it.  Our section includes a wide range of resources and information from understanding dementia, the treatments to help, to helping someone with dementia to eat more. Have a read below at our resources.

Expert advice on dementia

In an episode of the Age Space Podcast, we speak to Dr Alex Bailey, an old age psychologist working in Westminster, who shares his insight into memory services available, supporting those with dementia and protecting against the risk factors of dementia. You can listen to this episode for free here.

Alzheimer's and Dementia

We understand that dementia has a whole impact on the entire family, so take a read of our guide where we can give you the important things you really need to know.

Remember that you are not alone, there are people that can help and have bounds of information and experience. You can share your experience on our Agespace Forum.

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