If you are worried about your memory and think you might have dementia, it is a good idea to make an appointment to see your GP. If you are worried that a friend or relative may have dementia, try to encourage them to see their GP and offer to go with them.
Just being forgetful, doesn’t mean you have dementia. Problems with your memory can be caused by other things like stress, drugs, depression or other health problems. It would be just as important to rule out any other conditions or find ways to have them treated. Your GP will be able to do some simple tests to reassure you or refer you to a specialist for further checks.
An early diagnosis of dementia will give you a good chance to prepare and plan for the future and receive any treatment. This will give you the support to enable you to lead an active and fulfilling life.
When you visit your GP, he will ask about your symptoms and other aspects of your health. He will give you a physical examination, organise some blood tests and ask about your medication as this can also cause symptoms similar to dementia.
You will be asked some questions or given some mental exercises to measure any problems with your memory and your ability to think clearly. Read more about these tests.
Dementia can be difficult to diagnose, especially if you have mild symptoms. You are likely to be referred to the Memory Assessment team which is based at Swandean, Arundel Road, Worthing. The Memory Assessment Service is set up by The Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and the Alzheimer’s Society and is aimed at investigating and diagnosing individuals with memory problems as early as possible in order to offer them access to the treatment, advice and support that they may need. Their Patient Information Booklet can be downloaded and will give you more information.
Following your initial appointment, the team will decide if you need to have a brain scan or further assessment to aid diagnosis. In some cases, the doctor will see you straight after your initial appointment. You may be referred for an MRI or a CT scan or to a dementia specialist, such as a neurologist, who is experienced in treating conditions that affect the brain and nervous system.
It is a good idea to make full use of this visit and write down any questions you need to ask, make notes of any medical terms they use and ask if you can come back if you think of any more questions you might like to ask.
Once you’ve gone through all the tests, your doctor should ask if you want to know the diagnosis. They will explain what dementia might mean for you and give you the opportunity to talk more about the condition and to ask any questions that you might have.
The type of dementia you have, or if it is not clear, the plans to discover the type of dementia and what that will entail. Not every diagnosis is clear and they may wait, review and assess you after a period of time.
Everyone who has received a diagnosis of dementia/Alzheimer’s will be offered support from the teams Dementia Advisors and Support Workers for at least a year and, if on medication, access to a psychiatrist.
Once you have received your diagnosis, your GP should arrange to see you from time to time. Because dementia is progressive, your doctor may arrange another appointment with the specialist or the Memory Assessment Clinic.
Not everyone benefits from medication but drugs can be helpful in treating some of the symptoms.
An ongoing assessment of your dementia may be a good time to consider your plans for the future which might include a Lasting Power of Attorney to take care of your future welfare or financial needs, or an advance statement about your future care.
The NHS in Sussex have produced a leaflet entitled Your Care in Sussex: Dementia and End-of-Life Care Guidance. You can download a copy here.