If you’re worried about your memory, or you’re concerned about changes you’ve noticed with the memory, character or behaviour of someone near you, it’s important to visit a GP as soon as possible, to ensure an accurate diagnosis is made.
This means you can make plans for your future and you can be certain that you’re given appropriate support, guidance and treatment.
Going to a GP can also tackle and may highlight other problems such as Vitamin B12 deficiency depression, delirium, thyroid complications, infections, or cardiovascular problems that can affect brain function, memory, or an individual’s alertness.
The importance of having a diagnosis
We are aware that looking for a diagnosis can be overwhelming or scary, and some people today believe that they should postpone finding out. There are many good reasons you should take steps to get a diagnosis. For some individuals, it may be a relief to know what their condition really is, and why their memory, behaviour, or how they’re thought process is changing. A diagnosis allows them to understand how they could help themselves and what’s currently happening and this benefits the family tremendously.
The memory support practice or specialist will take a detailed medical and family history of the individual with symptoms of dementia and confirm the details with a relative.
A diagnosis assists the individual with dementia and their loved ones to receive the best treatment, support and to make sure the best strategies are in place whenever possible. This includes making decisions for the future and the present and looking at financial security.
A timely identification can help the person stay well for longer by increasing their awareness of the condition and how they and their loved ones can make adjustments to improve their wellbeing.
Although there’s no cure for dementia at the moment, medication and other interventions may be used to help manage and decrease the symptoms.
How is a diagnosis made?
In the vast majority of cases, the individual will be referred by the GP into to a memory service, clinic or specialist if in any way they are displaying symptoms suggestive of dementia.
Before they do so though, they need to assess whether the individual has an underlying psychiatric illness, by way of thyroid function, depression, vitamin B12 deficiency for instance.
Additionally, they ought to also take blood tests, a chest X-ray (if needed ) and a urine sample to rule out any other physical health difficulties.
They will also test the person’s cognitive skills, ask them to state what date and day it is and ask them to recall some common items to check concentration and short-term memory.
If all health conditions are ruled out as causes of these changes in behaviour, memory and character, the GP may refer the individual for investigation. This might be at a memory support (a place for expert evaluation for diagnosing, treating and supporting people with dementia), in a practice or with a professional.
The memory support practice or specialist will take a detailed medical and family history of the individual with symptoms of dementia and confirm the details with a relative. It’s helpful if someone who knows the individual writes a letter, or goes into the appointment with them, and has a conversation with the individual conducting the assessment to aid with this procedure.
Generally, they will test the individual’s cognitive abilities by asking specific questions, sometimes known as a’mental state examination’ or cognitive testing’. These include tests of memory, attention, verbal fluency, language and’visuospatial’ skills. Additionally, the memory support clinic or specialist will ask questions about the individual’s skills with activities of everyday living like household activities, shopping, self-maintenance and driving.
They may ask for an MRI or CT scan to examine the construction of their mind. What if the individual won’t see a GP? The person might be feeling fearful of getting a diagnosis and might think that they need to go into care or will lose their independence. Sometimes, they deny that they have a problem and might not understand there are concerns about behaviour or their memory.
By providing someone reassurance that the symptoms could be a result of a different potentially treatable condition e.g. physical illness, depression or disease, they could become more prepared to pay a visit to the GP. It’s worth remembering that you could contact the surgery if the individual refuses to visit the doctor.
The doctor may be able to arrange a house visit to consult with the person about their symptoms. You can write a letter, phone or email the individual’s GP. They should welcome information regarding worries and the individual’s current health, although the GP may not be ready to discuss information with you personally straight away.