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 such as a 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. Many of us notice that our memory becomes less reliable as we get older. It can also be a symptom of stress or depression. In rare cases, dementia-like symptoms can be caused by vitamin deficiencies or a brain tumour.

Even if the diagnosis is dementia, there is lots that can be done after a diagnosis to support someone to live well with the condition.

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

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Related information


Dementia map

Find out about rates of diagnosis across the country and and click through to a dementia diagnosis map on our Dementia diagnosis rates page.


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.