Getting diagnosed with a dementia
If you are worried about your memory or think you may have signs of a dementia, it's important to talk to your GP. A timely diagnosis can help you get the right treatments and find the best sources of support.
How a dementia diagnosis can reduce worry
If you’re worried that you’re showing signs of a dementia, getting a diagnosis can reduce uncertainty.
A diagnosis can explain:
- what’s causing your condition
- suitable treatment for your condition
If you're diagnosed with a dementia, it’s helpful to talk to family and friends about your diagnosis. It is also important to find out about help and support available from:
- health services
- social services
- voluntary organisations
If you are forgetful, it doesn't mean you have dementia. Other health conditions can also cause memory problems. It is important to identify other health problems and have treatment when necessary.
Seeing your GP about dementia
If you’re concerned about having a dementia and see your GP, they will usually:
- ask about your symptoms and your health
- give you a physical examination
- organise blood tests
- ask about any medications you take, as medicine can sometimes cause symptoms similar to dementia
- ask you some questions or do mental exercises to measure your memory or ability to think clearly
Referral to a dementia specialist
Dementia can be difficult to diagnose, especially if your symptoms are mild. If your GP is unsure about your diagnosis, they will refer you to a specialist doctor.
Seeing a dementia specialist
If you go to see a specialist, it can be helpful to:
- write down questions you want to ask them
- write down any medical terms the doctor says
- ask if you can come back if you would like more information
- get information about any tests they’ll do
The specialist may organise other tests including:
- a computerised tomography (CT) scan
- a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
Getting your dementia diagnosis
Once you’ve had the necessary tests, your doctor should ask if you want to know your diagnosis.
They should explain what having a dementia might mean for you. They should also give you time to talk more about the condition and ask questions.
Unless you decide otherwise, your doctor should discuss with you and your family:
- the type of dementia you have, or if it is not clear, how they will investigate further – if a diagnosis may not be clear, the doctors will reassess you after a certain time
- symptoms and how the illness might develop
- appropriate treatments you might be offered
- care and support services in your area
- support groups and voluntary organisations for people with a dementia and their families and carers
- advocacy services
- where you can find financial and legal advice
They should also give you written information about dementia.
Benefits of an early dementia diagnosis
Dementia is one of the health conditions people are most afraid of. That fear puts people off getting a diagnosis.
An accurate, timely diagnosis of dementia can have many benefits, including:
- an explanation for symptoms that might have been worrying you or your family
- access to treatments that can improve symptoms and slow the progress of the disease
- access to support and advice
- time to prepare for the future and plan ahead
A dementia diagnosis can come as a shock, but over time people come to view it in a positive way. This is because, while there is currently no cure for dementia, there are ways you can slow it down and maintain your memory function for longer.
With the right support and encouragement, those who have a dementia diagnosis can take an active role in managing their condition.
Asking for more information about your dementia diagnosis
If you're diagnosed with dementia, you can ask the doctor:
- which type of dementia you have
- about tests or investigations you should have
- how long you'll have to wait until you have the tests
- how long it will take to get the test results
- what will happen after you get the results
- Help and support for people living with a dementia
To read more about living well with dementia, go to the NHS website.
Where to find help and support
You can find more information and support services from the following organisations, see also ‘more useful links section’:
The Public Health Agency has also produced a range of information to help support people with a dementia, their families and friends.
This information includes the following publications:
- Ten common signs of dementia
- Early stages of dementia
- Communicating effectively with a person living with dementia
- Are you worried about dementia?
Dementia apps library
The ‘Apps4Dementia’ library is a digital service which groups together safe, trusted apps to provide information and guidance on the condition.
There a number of apps that offer support, self-care of symptoms and enable users to carry on with their day-to-day activities for as long as possible.
The information on this page was adapted from original content by NHS website.
More useful links
- Dementia services - Belfast Health and Social Care Trust
- Dementia services - Northern Health and Social Care Trust
- Dementia services - South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust
- Memory/ dementia services - Southern Health and Social Care Trust
- Dementia services - Western Health and Social Care Trust