Memory problems can have many underlying causes and are associated with some physical illnesses. These include thyroid problems, urinary tract infections and constipation. They can also be a side-effect of medication or due to stress, tiredness or depression. If your GP considers these but rules them out, there are a number of ways to assess your symptoms further.
As a first step, your GP will chat to you to find out more about you and your symptoms. This can include exploring how they are affecting your daily life. Your GP may carry out some recognised tests to check your thinking and memory. If a family member or someone who knows you well can be there too, it can be helpful for moral support and to support what you are saying.
Your GP may feel able to make a decision based on their findings but is likely to refer you for a fuller assessment to a memory clinic or consultant with more specialist knowledge. If you believe this would be helpful but the GP does not suggest it, ask if you can be referred as you have a right to ask for a second opinion.
Staff at the memory clinic may want to carry out further tests, including a brain scan, to get a clearer picture that will help them reach a diagnosis.
Difficulty of diagnosis
Making a diagnosis of dementia and confirming which type you have can be 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 and Alzheimer’s Research UK provide information on all types of dementia and have helplines that 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 their findings, discuss next steps with you and answer any questions you may have. You can choose not to know your diagnosis. You can also choose who else can know about your diagnosis.
If you receive a diagnosis, it is important to know who will be responsible for managing your care in the short and longer term and who you can contact with any questions or worries. You may find it helpful to download our free guide Living with early-stage dementia
There are drug treatments and non-drug treatments that can either help slow down progression of the dementia or help with some of the symptoms.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has issued guidance on supporting people with dementia and their carers. This includes information about the types of medication that can help some people with Alzheimer’s disease. These medications address symptoms that affect memory and thinking and can slow their rate of progression.
The NICE guidance also discusses the role of non-drug treatments such as cognitive stimulation therapy. This can help people who have mild or moderate dementia with symptoms that affect their thinking or memory. It involves doing activities that require some thought and problem-solving but in a fun way and can be provided by health or social care staff who have had appropriate training.
Other non-drug treatments can help with help with symptoms that affect mood or behaviour, such as reminiscence therapy, massage, music and other therapies. These treatments can foster a sense of wellbeing in many people with dementia.
Everyone experiences dementia in their own way. The key is to understand the individual and their life history and see if this understanding can help you identify triggers for particular types of behaviour.
NICE has also developed a Quality Standard for Dementia Care. It describes standards that the NHS should be working towards when developing services for people with dementia and their carers.
You can also find out about treatment and support on the NHS Choices website.