Diagnosis and treatment
If you feel like you or someone close to you may have dementia then it's important to see your GP.
How will I be diagnosed?
Getting diagnosed with dementia can help you make changes to live as well as possible and make plans for the future. Here's a step-by-step guide to how dementia is usually diagnosed.
- Talk to your GP, who will find out more about you and your symptoms and how they are affecting your daily life. A family member or friend can go with you for support, or to help you explain what's been happening.
- The GP will assess your symptoms and make sure they aren't being caused by another problem, such as a thyroid problem, a urinary tract infection, constipation, a side-effect of medication, stress, tiredness or depression.
- Your GP may carry out some tests to check your thinking and memory.
- Your GP may make a decision based on their findings or could refer you to a memory clinic or consultant with specialist knowledge for a fuller assessment. If the GP doesn't suggest it, you can ask to be referred as you have a right to ask for a second opinion.
- Staff at a memory clinic may want to carry out further tests, including a brain scan, to help them reach a diagnosis.
- After the tests, your consultant should explain their findings, discuss next steps with you and answer any questions you may have.
What if I'm diagnosed with dementia?
Getting a diagnosis of early-stage dementia can help you make changes to live as well as possible and make plans for the future.
The memory clinic or another health specialist in charge of your care should tell you the type of dementia they think you have. They may suggest drugs to slow the progression of your symptoms. They should also arrange to see you regularly to check how you're getting on.
Ask at the clinic to be given the name of someone you can contact when you need to. They will help explain what's going on and how you can get the help you need. They are sometimes called dementia advisers but their job title may vary from place to place.
It is best to ask for a point of contact as soon as possible after your diagnosis so you have their details for when you have any questions or concerns.
How will my dementia be treated?
There is currently no cure for dementia. However, there are ways you can lessen some of the symptoms as well as deal with the personal impact of a diagnosis.
There are drug treatments and non-drug treatments that can either help with or slow down the progression of dementia.
Some non-drug treatments can help with symptoms that affect mood or behaviour. This includes Cognitive Stimulation Therapy, a group programme where members take part in meaningful and stimulating activities, proven to help maintain memory and brain functioning and foster a sense of wellbeing for those living with dementia.
What's the best way of dealing with my diagnosis?
People react in different ways to being diagnosed with dementia. There's no right or wrong way to feel.
It may seem overwhelming at first. You may feel shock, disbelief or fear. Perhaps, you may feel relieved that you can put a name to what's going on.
Take your time to work out what it means for you. It can help to talk to someone and get support.
Counselling and therapy
You can talk to someone that isn't family or a friend. For some, talking to someone you don't know is easier than talking to someone close to you.
A professional can help you feel clearer about any concerns you may have, and find a way to manage them. A counsellor or therapist may help with feelings of fear and anger surrounding a diagnosis.
How do I tell those close to me?
Telling your friends and family about your diagnosis may seem daunting. You may worry they'll be upset or worry about you. You may not know how to tell them.
But talking to those close to you, telling them how your dementia is affecting you, what you can manage and how they might be able to help can be beneficial for everyone.
As your circumstances change, let your family and friends know what kind of help you feel you need and how they may be able to support you.
Talking to young children can be particularly difficult but there are useful guides, such as the Mental Health Foundation's The milk's in the oven, that can help children understand what's going on.