How to get a dementia diagnosis
The dementia diagnosis process can vary for everyone. This page describes the typical steps involved in getting a diagnosis, including what might happen if you are referred to a specialist.
For many people, getting a dementia diagnosis can be quite simple and take just a few weeks. For others it can take much longer – sometimes more than a year.
There isn’t yet a simple test for dementia. This means a diagnosis is normally based on a mixture of different types of assessment.
How is dementia diagnosed?
For most people, the process usually follows these steps:
- Your GP or another health professional at the GP surgery will carry out an initial assessment. If they think it’s possible you might have dementia, they will refer you to a local memory service, which has medical staff who specialise in dementia.
- A specialist will test your memory and see how you answer different types of questions. You don’t need to prepare for this. You may have a scan to check for changes in your brain.
- The specialist will tell you what they think is causing your symptoms. This will be based on what you have told them and the results from your tests. You will then be able to access the support that is right for you.
But the assessment process can vary, and will not be the same for everyone.
Talking to your GP about dementia
If you're preparing to talk to your GP about memory problems, read our advice to help you make the most of your conversation.
Referral to a dementia specialist
The specialist that your GP surgery refers you to may depend on your age, symptoms, and the services available in your local area. The consultants (specialist doctors) you may see are:
- Old age psychiatrists. They specialise in the mental health of older people, and also dementia. They may sometimes also offer support to younger people with dementia.
- General adult psychiatrists. They specialise in diagnosing and treating a wide range of mental health problems, as well as dementia. If you are under 65 years of age, you may be referred to one of these psychiatrists.
- Geriatricians. They specialise in the care of older people, including physical illnesses and disabilities. You may be referred to one of these specialists to see whether your symptoms are due to a condition other than (or as well as) dementia.
- Neurologists. They specialise in diseases of the brain and nervous system. Some neurologists have particular experience in diagnosing dementia. They tend to see younger people and those with less common types of dementia.
The consultant usually works in a specialist team. You may not always see the consultant. However, they are ultimately responsible for your case and will discuss it in detail with the health professional you do see.
Other professionals you may see during your assessment include:
- mental health nurses
- occupational therapists
- social workers
- dementia advisers (professionals who provide information, advice and guidance to people with dementia and their carers).
Tests used to diagnose dementia
Read more about the tests and scans that may be used to diagnose dementia.
Where will my appointment with a specialist be?
Since the impact of coronavirus, more virtual appointment options are available. If you are offered a choice of where to have your appointment, think about which option would suit your needs best. The GP or memory clinic can help you decide.
Having your assessment face to face in a memory clinic was the most common form of appointment before coronavirus. It allows the health professional to speak to you in person and do any physical checks.
They may ask you and anyone with you to wear a face covering. The specialist may be wearing one too.
If you are not able to go to a clinic, a health professional may be able to come to your own home to carry out the memory assessment.
The specialist calls to speak to you. This means you do not have to worry about travelling to the appointment. But you may still have to attend a clinic in person to have physical tests.
Think about how you find communicating virtually or by phone – especially if you have particular difficulties with this.
You could ask if there are different waiting times for each option. Or, you may prefer to wait longer for an in-person appointment if it means having to attend fewer appointments overall.
The Next Steps website has information on the different ways you may have your assessment. It also suggests the things you may want to consider for each option.
Preparing for your appointment with a specialist
You may have to wait between a few weeks or several months before you are able to see a specialist for further tests. How quickly you are seen depends on where you live, and how serious your symptoms are.
For many people, waiting is the hardest part of the diagnosis process.
You can ask the health professionals questions at any time during the assessment process. There are also several things you can do to live well while you wait for your assessment:
- Take care of yourself. Waiting for a specialist assessment is an emotional time, which can affect your wellbeing and relationships. It’s easy to feel like life is on hold until you get your diagnosis, but it’s important to keep doing the things you enjoy and looking after your physical and mental health.
- Read our tips on coping with memory problems. You can start trying out our useful strategies even if you don’t have a dementia diagnosis.
- Talk to others in a similar situation. Join our Talking Point online community to connect with others who are waiting for a diagnosis.
- Stay organised with your appointments. This can help you feel more in control of the process.
- Ask if the memory service offers pre-diagnostic counselling. This can help you to understand why you have been referred and what will happen next. It can also help you to prepare for the possibility of being diagnosed with dementia.
- Think about if you want to know your diagnosis. Start thinking from now what your wishes might be. If you don’t want to find out your diagnosis, the specialist can discuss this with someone you trust instead of with you directly.
How we can support you
Call our support line for advice and support, or connect with people in similar situations through our online community
Dementia Support Line
Dementia Support Forum
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