Why is it important to get dementia diagnosed?

Getting a diagnosis of dementia can give you a better understanding of the condition and what to expect. Timely diagnosis can help you make important decisions about treatment, support and care.

You may have been living with memory problems or other symptoms for some time. Your problems probably developed very gradually, so can be harder to recognise. Often, close friends and relatives see changes in us before we do.

If you’ve only recently become aware of changes, it might feel as though your symptoms aren’t ‘bad enough’ yet.

You might dread what the diagnosis will be, or think being diagnosed won’t help your problems. But your problems are worth investigating – you deserve to know what is behind them and healthcare professionals are there to support you.

Deciding to speak to your GP is a positive and important step.

In the film below, Bill talks about how getting a dementia diagnosis for his wife, Jo, helped them build a new life. You can also read their story.

Why should I speak to a GP?

In an Alzheimer’s Society survey, three out of five people with dementia wish they had got a diagnosis sooner. There are important reasons for this, which may help you if you are wondering whether to talk to the GP.

  • Signs of dementia are not a normal part of getting older. Dementia is caused by diseases in the brain. If you’re worried about changes in your usual abilities that are affecting your everyday life, you should not accept this as a normal sign of ageing.
  • Everyone’s experience of dementia is different. There are many different symptoms of dementia. The condition affects everyone individually, and symptoms change over time.
  • Younger people can also have dementia. A lot of people think of dementia as something that only elderly people have. But it also affects people in mid-life. Around 1 in 20 people with dementia are younger than 65, so it’s important that people of any age seek help if they are struggling.

It might not be dementia

There are many reasons for symptoms that look like dementia. These include many conditions that can be treated, such as:  

  • depression or anxiety 
  • medication side effects  
  • problems with eyesight or hearing  
  • chest or urinary tract infections  
  • severe constipation  
  • thyroid problems  
  • sleep problems 
  • stress 
  • iron and vitamin deficiencies.  

There are also other conditions that affect memory and thinking that are different to dementia, and can get better with the right support. Often, it’s a combination of things that cause symptoms. Seeing the GP can help you get the treatment you need to feel better.

Benefits of having a dementia diagnosis

If you have dementia, being diagnosed at an earlier stage gives you a chance to adjust and get things you need, such as: 

  • access to support. There is no cure for the diseases causing dementia yet, but there is lots of support that can help you live as well as possible. Going through the diagnosis process should let you know what type of dementia you have. As well as helping you plan for the future (such as setting up power of attorney) and access therapies and support groups, this may also mean you get access to medicines that can help you manage your symptoms.
  • the offer of benefits and protections. Being diagnosed with dementia means you are protected from discrimination (being treated unfairly) at work by law. It can also give you access to financial benefits.
  • information that will help people understand what you’re going through. Dementia can cause changes in your mood and behaviour. If you have been feeling low, getting irritated easily, or acting differently, a diagnosis can help people understand what you have been dealing with. They may be better able to support you. 

You may worry that people will see you differently if they know you have dementia. This can be particularly hard in communities where conditions like dementia are not well understood or accepted.

Remember that it is your decision who you tell about any diagnosis you have, and when and how you tell them.

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.

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