Getting a diagnosis of dementia

The importance of getting a diagnosis

We know that seeking a diagnosis can be scary or overwhelming, and some people feel that they’d rather delay finding out. There are four main reasons you should take steps to getting a diagnosis as soon as you can.

How is a diagnosis made?

In the majority of cases, the GP will refer the person with symptoms suggestive of dementia to a memory service, clinic or specialist. However, before they do this they should assess whether the person has an underlying treatable condition, for example, depression, vitamin B12 deficiency, or abnormal thyroid function. In addition, they should also take blood tests, a chest X-ray (if necessary) and also a urine sample to rule out any other physical health issues. They will also briefly test the person’s cognitive abilities by asking the person to:

If all physical or mental health conditions have been ruled out as possible causes of the changes in memory, behaviour and personality, the GP may then refer the person for further investigation. This could be at a memory service (a place for specialist assessment for diagnosing, treating and supporting people with dementia), at a clinic or with a specialist.

The memory service, clinic or specialist should:

What if the person won’t visit the GP?

The person may be feeling frightened of getting a diagnosis and may think that they will lose their independence or have to go into care. In some cases, they may not understand that there are concerns about their memory or behaviour and deny they have a problem.

By giving someone reassurance that the symptoms may be due to another potentially treatable condition e.g. physical illness, depression or infection, they could become more willing to visit the GP. If the person simply refuses to go to the GP it is worth remembering that you can contact the surgery to explain the situation. The GP may be able to provide a home visit to speak to the person about their symptoms.

As someone close to them, you could write a letter, telephone or email the person’s GP outlining your concerns. The GP may not be prepared to discuss confidential information with you, but they should welcome relevant information about the person’s current health and concerns.

What if the GP won’t make a referral to a Memory Service or Clinic for a specialist assessment?

If you are experiencing difficulty getting a diagnosis, or if you have questions you can’t get answered, we’ll take the time to really understand the problem, and give you the expert support you need
to tackle it. Please call our Helpline on 0800 888 6678 or email helpline@dementiauk.org to talk through your situation with a specialist Admiral Nurse.