Diagnosis and Treatment

man and woman looking at a book

Memory problems can have many underlying causes including some physical illnesses. They can be a side-effect of medication or due to stress, tiredness or depression. If these possibilities are considered but ruled out, there are a number of ways to assess your symptoms further.

As a first step, your GP or a specialist nurse may simply chat to you to find more about you and your symptoms. If a family member or someone who knows you well cannot be there too, your GP may ask if you mind if he/she talks to them afterwards. This helps to get a better feel for your problem and make an informal assessment.

Memory test

Depending on the outcome, you may be asked to take a recognised memory test such as the Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE). This consists of 30 questions that can identify problem areas. 

You may, as a result be referred to consultant.

Depending on where you live, this may be a consultant geriatrician – a doctor who specialises in conditions that affect older people or a consultant psychogeriatrician – a doctor specialising in older people’s mental health problems or a general psychiatrist or a neurologist – a doctor who specialises in conditions that affect the nervous system.

The consultant may want to carry out a range of tests, including a brain scan, to get a clearer picture.

Difficulty of diagnosis

Making a diagnosis of dementia and confirming which type you have can be very difficult, particularly in the early stages. Each person will experience it in their own way and their condition will progress at a different rate.

If you would like more specialist information, the Alzheimer’s Society provides information on all types of dementia and has a helpline you can call for advice and support. There is also information about dementia in the health A-Z section of the NHS Choices website.

Your consultant should explain his findings and discuss next steps with you and answer any questions you may have.

If you receive a diagnosis, it is important to know who will be responsible for managing your care in the short and long term and who you can contact with any questions or worries. One of the goals in the National Dementia Strategy, is for you to have a named local Dementia Adviser to help you find the right information, care, support and advice.

Treatment

In November 2006 the National Institute for health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) issued guidance explaining the types of treatment, medication and other therapies – that can help manage the symptoms of the various types of dementia. A patient version of this guidance is available on request or to download from their website. You can find out how to contact their orderline in the Further information section.

NICE guidance is also available on the use of different medication for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. You can find out more about medication and NICE decisions on the NHS Choices website by following the link in the Further information section.

The Alzheimer's Society helpline may be able to answer questions you have about medication and other treatments.

National Dementia Strategy 

Living well with dementia – a National Dementia Strategy, was published in February 2009 following a consultation that gathered the views of people with  dementia, their families and health and social care professionals.

The strategy has three key steps to improve the quality of life for people with dementia and their families:

  1. To improve knowledge about dementia among the general public and people in the caring professions and remove the stigma associated with dementia
  2. Ensure early diagnosis, treatment and support for people with dementia, their families and carers
  3. Develop better services that mean people can stay in their own homes for as long as possible. Develop better services in hospitals and care homes that recognise and respond to the needs of people with dementia and their families as their condition changes. This means all staff need the right training and skills to care confidently and with sensitivity.

This is a 5-year strategy and you can find out more about its 17 key targets and what achieving them will mean for people with dementia and their carers in a summary publication on the GOV.UK website.

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Age UK Advice:
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Useful websites

  • The Health A-Z section of this website contains information on the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of many types of illnesses. It also includes video interviews with specialists and patients.

  • The Alzheimer's Society works to improve the quality of life of people affected by dementia in England, Wales and Northern Ireland

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