How is Dementia Diagnosed? Your Guide to a Private Dementia Assessment

Dementia is the leading cause of death in England, and more than 900,000 people across the UK are currently living with the condition. This figure is projected to rise to more than 1.6 million people within the next 20 years. Dementia can affect anyone, including those under the age of 65. This is known as young-onset dementia and affects around 42,000 people in the UK at present (Alzheimer’s Society). 

Due to the prevalence of the condition, knowing the symptoms of dementia and when to get an assessment is paramount. Although there is no cure for the condition as yet, early intervention dementia treatment can mitigate some of the symptoms and allow patients to live an independent, fulfilling life for longer. 

In the UK, if you think you have dementia, you have two main options: speak to your NHS GP and get an assessment that way, or book a private dementia assessment. At Dementech Neurosciences, we provide private dementia assessments and treatments. If you’re considering going down the private route for a dementia assessment but are unsure what to expect, keep reading as we explain everything you need to know about the process. 

Is a dementia assessment always needed?

Before you book an assessment, it’s normal to ask yourself if you really need one, especially if you’re over the age of 65. This is because, as we get older, we tend to naturally experience some cognitive decline. However, if you notice any changes in your cognitive abilities, it’s important to speak to a healthcare professional to determine what the cause might be. 

Look out for things like: 

  • Memory issues such as forgetting things very quickly
  • Confusion 
  • Difficulty doing everyday tasks such as shopping
  • Language difficulties such as not being able to find the right words or having issues keeping up with a conversation
  • Changes to your behaviour such as feeling irritable or anxious more often 

There are lots of reasons why you might be experiencing any of the above symptoms – they don’t always mean you have dementia. That being said, the moment you become aware of changes like those listed above, even if they’re just small changes, it’s best to speak to a GP or arrange a dementia assessment just in case. An assessment may determine that you’re experiencing normal signs of ageing, or it may reveal that there’s something else at play, be it dementia or something else. 

You don’t need to have a long list of symptoms to get a dementia assessment. The sooner you book in for an assessment, the sooner you can get answers and, if necessary, the faster preventative treatment can begin.

Dementia symptoms vs normal ageing symptoms 

A lot of people put off a dementia assessment because they think their symptoms are normal signs of ageing. It’s important to highlight that whilst mild cognitive impairment is normal as we age, dementia is not a part of the ageing process and therefore the differences between the condition and traditional ageing are different. If you’re unsure whether your experiencing normal ageing symptoms or dementia symptoms, here are some common comparisons between the two:

Signs of ageing Signs of dementia
Forgetting information you were told a while ago, e.g. a few hours or days ago Forgetting information you were told recently, e.g. within the hour, or asking the same questions frequently
Occasionally misplacing objects, e.g. your phone or the TV remote, but being able to find them by retracing your steps Putting objects in the entirely wrong place, e.g. putting your phone in the fridge, and being unable to retrace your steps to find it
Taking a little bit longer to learn something new, e.g. how to use a new appliance Being completely unable to learn something new, e.g. how to use a new appliance
Taking longer to plan something or critically think something through, and sometimes make decisions without thinking of the consequences first Getting severely confused when trying to plan something and being unable to critically think something through, and regularly making decisions without thinking of the consequences first
Sometimes struggling to think of the right word or follow conversations where lots of people are involved Regularly forgetting the name/word for things and finding it hard to follow conversations, even with just one person
Occasionally forgetting the day of the week but remembering later on Losing track of time completely and not being able to figure it out
Knowing your way around familiar places but having initial difficulty in new places Getting confused or lost in familiar places, e.g. the local shop

There are lots of reasons why you might experience symptoms in the dementia column. For example, if you develop a mood disorder like depression, it might cause you to have concentration and critical thinking problems, and you may get confused more easily. However, if you notice any of the above changes or feel like your ability to go about your day to day life is disrupted beyond what can be expected when ageing normally, it could be time to see a doctor and have a dementia assessment.

Diagnosing dementia 

How dementia is diagnosed can vary depending on the symptoms, but is often more of a process of elimination than anything else. This is because there isn’t one single test that can confirm dementia. Typically, dementia is brought on by something else, and this will determine the type of dementia. For example, Alzheimer’s, the most common type of dementia, is brought on by a buildup of proteins in the brain, whereas vascular dementia, the second most common type of dementia, is brought on by impaired blood flow to the brain. 

Why you might develop a build-up of proteins or have impaired blood flow to the brain can vary, but oftentimes, the root cause of dementia is another condition or disease. In addition, a number of symptoms of dementia are symptoms of other diseases or conditions, such as mild cognitive impairment or functional cognitive disorder. 

With this in mind, it can sometimes take a while to diagnose dementia whilst numerous tests and observations are carried out. At Dementech Neurosciences, the process is faster than on the NHS because you immediately speak to a specialist and don’t have to wait for a referral, and tests are carried out and results are made available in a quicker time frame. That being said, making a dementia diagnosis remains a process of elimination by testing for other conditions and ruling them out. 

The process of a dementia assessment: understanding how dementia is diagnosed

Talking to a GP/private specialist

The first step is to arrange an appointment with a GP if you’re going down the NHS route. If you opt for a private dementia assessment, you will immediately meet with a specialist, but thereafter, the assessment process largely looks the same. 

During your initial appointment, you’ll be able to discuss your symptoms and concerns, and may be asked to do some physical and cognitive tests.

Symptom history 

When you speak to a GP or private specialist, the first thing you’ll be asked is about your symptom history. This means recounting when you first started noticing your symptoms and how they’re affecting you. You may also be asked about your general medical history, your family history, and the details of any medications you might be on.

This information will give your medical professional an idea as to whether perhaps new medication could be causing adverse side effects, if you might have a genetic predisposition to dementia or another condition, and whether the symptoms are indicative of anything else depending on how you’re being affected and how long you’ve been experiencing them for.

Physical exam 

Dementia can affect more than just your memory and cognitive abilities – it can have a physical impact. With this in mind, you’ll be asked to complete a physical examination which will look at your coordination, movement, hearing, and eyesight. This can help to identify if another condition, such as Parkinson’s disease, may be present, or whether you might’ve had a stroke that could be connected to something like vascular dementia

Cognitive exam 

You will then undergo a cognitive assessment which will look at your memory and critical thinking skills. You might be asked questions such as who the current prime minister is, what the day is, what your address is, and where you are. 

Tests

To rule out other conditions such as vitamin/mineral deficiencies or a thyroid problem, you may undergo some tests. These will generally include blood tests and a urine test. Some patients undergo an ECG to look at how their heart is working, too. Depending on the results, you may need to go for some brain scans to confirm a diagnosis.

Generally speaking, tests at a private clinic can be carried out the same day as the initial assessment and results may be available within 48 hours, whereas on the NHS, you may need to wait longer to have tests done and get the results back.

Specialist referral 

For those going down the NHS route, a specialist referral to a memory clinic may be made for further testing, such as MRI or CT scans. When you visit Dementech Neurosciences, you will immediately meet with a specialist, so you don’t need to wait for a referral to be sent through. 

Diagnosis 

When you’ve undergone all relevant tests, your specialist will review your results and make a diagnosis. You might receive a diagnosis of dementia, or it could be something else. Your specialist will be able to provide more information on your diagnosis and outline the next steps. You will also be directed to support networks and services that can help you come to terms with a diagnosis. 

Getting the most out of a dementia assessment

It can be unnerving to go to a dementia assessment. You might be afraid of what the outcome might be, or you might minimise your experiences because you feel like you’re overreacting. For the best results and the most accurate diagnosis, it’s important that you try and get the most out of your appointment. This can lead to an accurate and early diagnosis and quicker treatment if necessary. 

Be honest

Make sure you’re totally honest about what’s been happening. Detail all of your symptoms and how they’ve impacted your life, no matter how small they might seem. It’s normal to feel embarrassed about behavioural changes or memory issues, but there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. Make sure you use relevant words and phrases to convey how you feel and how your life has changed. Don’t try to minimise your experience.

Request a longer appointment 

If you are experiencing difficulties with speech and communication, or if you have a lot to speak about, make sure to ask for a longer appointment if necessary, especially if you’re seeing your GP first. This will relieve some of the pressure you feel and make sure you have enough time to speak about everything you need to.

Make notes 

Your specialist or GP may provide information on next steps and possible medical terms that could relate to a potential diagnosis. If you think you might forget the information, make notes during your appointment or ask your specialist or GP to make notes for you on anything that might be important. 

Bring someone along 

If you’re having trouble with your memory, or if someone close to you noticed changes or symptoms before you did, it might be useful to bring them along so they can explain to the specialist or GP what has been happening. This can paint a more accurate picture for the medical professional, and having a loved one nearby can provide comfort during a nervous time such as this. They can also make notes on your behalf if necessary. 

Book a private dementia assessment with Dementech Neurosciences

If you think you could benefit from a private dementia assessment, contact us today. We have a team of world-leading dementia specialists who provide outstanding care from the initial assessment through to diagnosis and treatment. You’re in safe, experienced hands at Dementech Neurosciences. What’s more, we offer same-day appointments and testing at our London clinic, so you can get answers faster. Get in touch with us to find out more or to book an appointment.