In the time it takes you the read this article, someone in the UK will develop dementia.
There are estimated to be 850,000 people in the UK with dementia, and someone develops the condition every three minutes. However, only around 500,000 will have a formal diagnosis.
This is because diagnosing dementia can be difficult and because some people choose not to pursue a diagnosis. In the early stages when symptoms can be mild, they can be mistaken for other conditions, such as depression. It can also be hard to distinguish between the different forms of dementia.
However, diagnosing dementia, and which form of the condition someone has, is important. It will ensure people can get the right support and treatment where available and can plan for the future.
So how is dementia diagnosed?
If someone has worries about their health, their GP is the first person to contact. If the GP suspects dementia, they are likely to be referred to a memory clinic or specialist. These specialists may include psychiatrists, geriatricians, neurologists, clinical psychologists and memory nurses.
When someone sees a doctor or nurse with concerns about their memory or thinking, they will ask about symptoms and medical history. They may also speak with a partner or someone close to them about their symptoms.
There is a range of memory tests and someone might take one or more of these during their assessment. Because dementia gets worse over time, the tests may be repeated, perhaps after six to 12 months, to see if there have been any changes.
Other tests, including blood tests and brain scans (CT and MRI), could be arranged. Very occasionally, a doctor may arrange an EEG (brain wave test) or a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) if they suspect a rare form of dementia.
Improving diagnosis is a key focus for Alzheimer’s Research UK’s mission to bring about the first life-changing dementia treatment by 2025.
Advances in technology are providing huge opportunities to improve how we detect the diseases that cause dementia. Detecting the diseases early is vital, especially as research is now showing that diseases like Alzheimer’s can begin up to 15-20 years before any symptoms start to show. We believe this could offer a vital window of opportunity to intervene before widespread damage to the brain has taken place.
For more information about dementia diagnosis, click here.
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