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Referral to a dementia specialist

If your GP thinks you may have dementia, they will refer you to a specialist for tests. Find out what’s involved and what to do while you’re waiting.

The specialist assessment

If your GP has referred you to a dementia specialist, you may have to wait a few weeks or several months for your appointment.

You will usually see a dementia specialist at a memory clinic. They will carry out a detailed assessment to find out whether you have dementia. If you do have dementia, they will also try to find out what sort of dementia you have.

The assessment will include:

  • talking to you about the changes you have noticed
  • your medical history
  • mental ability tests

If needed, the specialist may also ask for:

  • physical examinations and tests, such as a blood test
  • a brain scan

It can help to take along a friend or relative, to support you and help you to remember what the specialist says.

What to expect at your appointment

You may feel worried about going to an appointment with a specialist. But a specialist’s assessment will be similar to those you have already had done at your GP surgery. It will just be more detailed to give them as much information as possible. This includes taking a history, physical examinations and tests.

Find out more about the tests and scans for dementia.

The specialist may ask you questions that feel quite personal, about your life, relationships, home environment and mental health. They need as much information about you as possible to understand what could be causing your symptoms.

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. 

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.

You could ask if there are different waiting times for each option. You may prefer to wait longer for an in-person appointment if it means having to attend fewer appointments overall. 

In-person clinic appointment

Having your assessment face to face in a memory clinic is the most common form of appointment. It allows the health professional to speak to you in person and do any physical checks

In-person appointment in your home

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.

Virtual appointment by phone or video call

The specialist may be able to call 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 difficulties with this.

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.

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.


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.


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
  • psychologists
  • occupational therapists
  • social workers
  • dementia advisers (professionals who provide information, advice and guidance to people with dementia and their carers)

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. The NextSteps website has lots of practical tips to help you.

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 Dementia Support Forum 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 about counselling

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 support you

Get advice and information, whether you are worried about your memory, waiting for a referral or already diagnosed.

  • Call our support line to speak to a trained adviser
  • Visit our online forum to hear from people in the same situation

Real life stories of referral and diagnosis

Hear from people who have gone through the experience

Zoe and Koula sit together on couch with a glass of wine.

Without a diagnosis, we wouldn’t have the support mum needs

Zoe explains what a dementia diagnosis means for her and her mum.

Di stands behind water fountain.

The tipping point for my wife needing a dementia diagnosis

Pete shares his wife Di's dementia diagnosis story.

Ruby sits with her grandad, George.

Spotting changes in behaviour before a diagnosis

Ruby started to see changes in her grandad’s behaviour before he was diagnosed with mixed dementia.

Last reviewed: December 2023

Next review: December 2025