Dementia is a complex condition, and diagnosing it accurately requires a combination of assessments and tests. These evaluations are typically conducted by a GP (General Practitioner) or a specialist at a memory clinic or hospital. This guide will walk you through the various steps and tests involved in diagnosing dementia, ensuring you understand the process and what to expect.

Taking a History

The Role of Your GP

Your journey often begins with your GP, who will take an initial history of your symptoms. If necessary, they may refer you to a specialist for a more detailed history. It’s beneficial to have someone who knows you well accompany you to these appointments. They can provide additional insights into the changes or problems they’ve observed.

Key Points Your Doctor Will Address:

  • Symptom Onset: How and when your symptoms started and their impact on your daily life.
  • Existing Conditions: Management of any existing conditions like heart disease, diabetes, depression, or stroke.
  • Medication Review: A thorough review of all medications you’re taking, including prescribed medicines, over-the-counter drugs, and alternative products like vitamin supplements.


Mental Ability Tests to Diagnose Dementia

Cognitive Assessments

People exhibiting symptoms of dementia undergo tests to evaluate their mental abilities, such as memory and thinking. These tests, known as cognitive assessments, may initially be administered by your GP. A common test used by GPs is the General Practitioner Assessment of Cognition (GPCOG).

Types of Cognitive Tests:

  • Short- and Long-term Memory
  • Concentration and Attention Span
  • Language and Communication Skills
  • Awareness of Time and Place (Orientation)

Important Considerations:

  • Education Level: Test scores can be influenced by a person’s education level. For instance, someone who struggles with reading or writing may have a lower score without having dementia. Conversely, a highly educated person might score well yet still have dementia.

Blood Tests to Check for Other Conditions

To rule out other potential causes of dementia-like symptoms, your GP will arrange for blood tests. These tests are crucial in identifying conditions that could be mistaken for dementia.

Common Blood Tests Include:

  • Liver Function
  • Kidney Function
  • Thyroid Function
  • HbA1c (for diabetes)
  • Vitamin B12 and Folate Levels

If there’s a possibility of an infection, additional tests like a urine test might be conducted.


Dementia Brain Scans

Brain scans play a vital role in the dementia diagnosis process, especially after simpler tests have ruled out other issues. While brain scans alone cannot diagnose dementia, they are integral to the broader assessment.

Types of Brain Scans:

MRI Scans:

  • Diagnosis Confirmation: Helps confirm dementia and identify the type of dementia.
  • Detailed Information: Provides detailed insights into blood vessel damage in vascular dementia.
  • Brain Shrinkage: Shows shrinkage in specific brain areas, such as the frontal and temporal lobes in frontotemporal dementia, and temporal lobes in early-stage Alzheimer’s disease.

CT Scans:

  • Stroke or Tumour Detection: Used to identify signs of stroke or a brain tumour. However, they offer less detailed brain structure information compared to MRI scans.

Additional Notes:

Even if a brain scan does not reveal significant changes, it doesn’t necessarily mean the absence of dementia.

Other Scans and Procedures

In some cases, additional scans or procedures might be required if MRI or CT scan results are inconclusive.

Advanced Scans:

SPECT and PET Scans:

  • Brain Function: These scans assess how the brain functions and can detect abnormalities in blood flow within the brain.

EEG (Electroencephalogram):

  • Brain Activity: Records the brain’s electrical signals. This test is rare and typically used if epilepsy is suspected as a cause of dementia symptoms.


Approach Dementia Diagnosis with Awareness and Preparedness

Diagnosing dementia is a multifaceted process that requires a thorough assessment of symptoms, cognitive abilities, and potential underlying conditions. Understanding each step – from initial history-taking to advanced brain scans – can help you navigate this challenging journey with greater confidence and clarity.

A study by the Alzheimer’s Society has shown that 1 in 4 people wait for 2 years before getting help for dementia symptoms. But an accurate and early diagnosis can have many benefits. Remember, early diagnosis and intervention can significantly impact the management and progression of dementia, so seeking medical advice promptly is crucial. Understanding these components empowers you to approach dementia diagnosis with awareness and preparedness, ensuring the best possible outcomes for you or your loved ones.

At the Rainbow Care Group we’re changing the way dementia day care services are delivered across the UK and our commitment to ensuring universal access to dementia care remains unwavering. Join us as we strive for a future where no one is left without the critical support they require. Together, let’s make a meaningful difference, today and always.