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Dementia: Diagnosis and treatment

If you’re worried that you might have symptoms of dementia, it's best to book an appointment to speak to your doctor. Talking about the possibility of having dementia can be difficult, but we're here to help guide you through the process. 

How will I be diagnosed?

Getting diagnosed with dementia can help you make changes to help you live as well as possible and make plans for the future. Below is a step-by-step guide to how dementia is usually diagnosed: 

  1. Your doctor will talk to you about your symptoms and how they're affecting your daily life. They may ask someone close to you about any changes they've noticed, if you consent to them being involved. You may want a family member or friend to go with you for support.
  2. Your doctor will then carry out some health checks to 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.
  3. Your doctor may carry out some tests to check your thinking and memory.
  4. Your doctor may want to refer you to a memory clinic or a specialist for a fuller assessment. If the doctor doesn't suggest it, you can ask for a referral if you think it would be useful. If you're referred, staff at a memory clinic may want to carry out further tests to help them reach a diagnosis. After these tests, your consultant should explain their findings, discuss the next steps with you and answer any questions you may have.

What if I'm diagnosed with dementia?

There's no right or wrong way to react to a dementia diagnosis. It may seem overwhelming at first. You may feel shock or you may be worried about the impact it will have on you and those close to you. On the other hand, you may feel relieved that you can attach a name to what's been going on. Getting a diagnosis at an early stage can help you make changes to live as well as possible and make plans for the future.

Despite the challenges a dementia diagnosis can bring, many people with dementia live fulfilling lives for a number of years.

The memory clinic or 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 to be given the name of someone you can contact when you need to. They'll help explain what's going on and how you can get the help you need. They're sometimes called your dementia advisers or a point of contact, but their job title may vary from place to place. 

How will my dementia be treated?

There's 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 either slow down the progression of dementia or help you live well with dementia.

Some non-drug treatments can help with symptoms that affect mood or behaviour. This includes Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (CST), 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. 

A longer-term programme of CST, known as Maintenance Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (MCST), may be offered by your local Age UK. If it's not available in your area, you may be eligible to join virtual MCST sessions. 

Click here to find out more about Age UK MCST programmes

What's the best way of dealing with my diagnosis?

There's no right or wrong way to approach conversations with people about your dementia. It's personal to you.

It can feel difficult to talk to people you know about your diagnosis. You might get emotional, which is perfectly normal. You might prefer to approach the topic differently with different people, and find it easier to talk about it with certain people. 

Whatever applies to you, many people find that if they're honest with their family and friends, they're more likely to get the support they need. 

However, you may find it easier to talk to someone you don't know instead of talking to someone close to you. Counselling gives you a chance to speak openly with someone who'll listen to you without judging you or your situation. This can help you feel clearer about your concerns and find ways to manage them. They may be able to help with feelings of fear and anger surrounding a diagnosis. 

How do I tell those close to me about my dementia diagnosis?

Telling your family and friends about your diagnosis may seem daunting. You may not know how to tell them about it – or whether to tell them at all. You may be concerned that they'll worry about you, or change how they behave towards you.

But when you're ready, you should talk to your family and friends about how dementia is affecting you, what you can manage and how they might be able to help. The more specific you are about the challenges you face, the more they'll be able to help you. It's important that you keep talking to your family and friends as your circumstances change, so they know your difficulties and preferences and how they can continue to support you.

Dementia can be difficult to explain to children and young people and you may worry about upsetting them. Keep your explanation simple, ask other adults (such as their parents) to help, and answer their questions as honestly as you can.  Alzheimer's Society has some helpful advice for talking about dementia with children and young people. Click here to read this advice on the Alzheimer's Society's website.

Phone icon We're here to help

We offer support through our free advice line on 0800 678 1602. Lines are open 8am-7pm, 365 days a year. We also have specialist advisers at over 120 local Age UKs.

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Last updated: Apr 08 2024

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