There is no one, straightforward test for a dementia such as Alzheimer’s Disease. This can mean that confirming a diagnosis is often difficult, particularly in the early stages.
A diagnosis of dementia usually begins with the general practitioner, GP. They will start an assessment by building a picture of what is causing concern. The GP will discuss the situation and plan what steps should be taken. It can be helpful to build a diary of changes which a person experiences and displays over time to help the GP form a picture of what is happening.
The GP will generally begin an assessment by excluding other causes of the signs and symptoms causing concern, this can include ruling out an infection, vitamin deficiency, thyroid problems, a brain tumour, depression and the side effects of drugs which all can produce similar symptoms.
The GP may refer to a consultant, such as a geriatrician, neurologist, or a psychiatrist of old age or to a Memory Clinic. The consultant will conduct a full assessment to try to establish the cause of the symptoms. This process usually includes a detailed assessment of the person’s memory, blood tests, and a full history of the person’s medical and family background. A brain scan (CT, MRI) to identify any changes taking place in the person’s brain may form part of the assessment, but this may not be required for every case.
After the assessment, the consultant or doctor will draw together all the results and evidence and if appropriate, a diagnosis will be confirmed. It may be that the assessment is repeated at a later date in order to chart any changes and confirm the diagnosis.