Diagnosing Dementia

Doctors and researchers have identified more than 400 different kinds of dementia. The one that we have all heard of is probably Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer's disease attacks nerves, brain cells and neurotransmitters (chemicals that carry messages to and from the brain).

A timely diagnosis can help you:

  • Get the right treatments
  • Find the best sources of support
  • Make decisions about the future 

There is no single test for dementia or the diseases that cause dementia symptoms. Diagnosis involves a range of assessments which mean it can take some time to get a definitive diagnosis. The journey towards diagnosis will usually begin with a consultation with your GP. This consultation is an opportunity to talk about any signs or symptoms you are worried about. Usually your doctor will rule out other causes of these symptoms first. Blood tests and other assessments including memory tests may be carried out. The GP may then refer you to a consultant who will conduct a full assessment to find out the cause of symptoms. If you are over 65 this consultant will usually specialise in geriatric medicine or he or she may be a later life psychiatrist. If you are under 65 then you may be referred to a neurologist.

A consultant may then make an initial diagnosis but may also refer you to a specialist unit called a Memory Clinic. There are a number of memory clinics operating in Ireland. Some clinics offer a nationwide service, others offer services to people living in particular part of the country. The clinics work with people who are experiencing memory problems to diagnose the cause of these problems. All but one of the clinics requires a referral from a GP to access the service.

While we are better at talking about our health as a country, there is still a certain degree of fear and stigma surrounding dementia. Unfortunately people are often afraid or embarrassed to talk to people they know with dementia, and this can lead to a lot of unnecessary loneliness.

Fear can also mean that people are slow to seek help, missing out on support and services. People may fear that they will be misunderstood because of misconceptions about their illness. Support and services can help us to live with dementia for many years while maintaining their dignity and a quality of life.

Dementia is not simply a health issue but a social issue that requires a community response.

For more information 

After diagnosis

Receiving a diagnosis of dementia for yourself or a loved one can be daunting and can create stress and fear. Living with dementia is challenging and can be difficult for the individual and those who care for them. Accessing support and services is an important step in planning for life after diagnosis. With the right support and services many people with dementia live active and fulfilling lives.

The Alzheimer Society of Ireland provides a range of services and supports nationwide for individuals with dementia and their families. You can access information about these services and supports by visiting their website’s dedicated Living with Dementia section. You can also call their National Helpline 1800 341 341.

Read more:

I have dementia...first steps after diagnosis

Living Well with Dementia