Alzheimer's Society
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Diagnosing dementia

Diagnosing dementia is often difficult, particularly in the early stages. The GP is the first person to consult. The GP may then refer the person being diagnosed to a specialist consultant.

Assessments can include conversations with the person being diagnosed and those close to them, a physical examination, memory tests and/or brain scans.

The Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE) is the most commonly used test for complaints of memory problems or when a diagnosis of dementia is being considered.

Becoming forgetful does not necessarily mean that you have dementia. Memory loss can be an effect of ageing. It can also be a symptom of stress or depression. In rare cases, dementia-like symptoms can be caused by vitamin deficiencies and/or a brain tumour.

A definite diagnosis of the cause of dementia may only be confirmed at post mortem or, in very rare instances, through a brain biopsy.

Dementia map

Take a look at our dementia map to see state of dementia and diagnosis levels in the UK

Watch our film of Bob and Jo, who discuss the impact that getting a diagnosis has had on their lives (duration 2:35)

See a full transcript for this video



Some of the first signs of Alzheimer's disease include lapses in memory and problems with finding the right words. Other symptoms that may develop include:

  • Memory problems: For example, forgetting the way home from the shops, or being unable to remember names and places.
  • Mood changes: Particularly as the parts of the brain that control emotion become affected by disease. People with dementia may also feel sad, frightened or angry about what is happening to them.
  • Communication problems: For example, a decline in the ability to talk, read and write.

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