A dementia diagnosis can be game changing.
A diagnosis can give answers for strange new behaviours. It can allow families to receive practical information, advice and guidance. It opens up doorways for treatment and care, and sometimes even reverse effects.
Importantly, it can help you prepare for the future, both financially and socially.
A professional medical diagnosis informs you of the type of dementia, which can be vital in deciding treatment and planning.
However, questions of when you should seek out a diagnosis, how to do so, and what to expect often stop people from getting the help they need.
Many times people dismiss the symptoms of dementia by thinking its a part of getting older, or that they are not yet severe enough.
It’s time to break down the first misconception.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s – while linked to ageing- should not be confused as ageing. Those with dementia are often mistakenly called ‘senile’, but mental decline is not a normal part of the ageing process,
Actual markers of oncoming dementia are things that impact and inhibit everyday life. Trouble with planning, finding objects, remembering upcoming events and appointments, having trouble when travelling to new areas are all signs of cognitive decline.
If you or a loved one are displaying early symptoms of dementia then you should seek help.
Alzhiemers Dementia Australia listed the 10 early signs of Alzheimer’s. This is a useful checklist for a basic examination.
A good way to self-assess is a Standard Mini-Mental State Exam (SMMSE). This is a simple test that you can find online and will only take around 10 minutes to complete. It is one of the most popular tests for cognitive function and can be easily completed with the help of a friend.
However, dementia is progressive and can get worse in a small space of time. This is especially true if there is a history or risk of heart attacks, strokes or excess of drinking and smoking.
A self-evaluation or a SMMSE is not a substitute for a professional diagnostic workup.
Luckily, when it comes to diagnosing and receiving support for dementia and Alzheimer’s, there is plenty of help available.
Agencies like Dementia Australia, Alzheimer’s Association Australia, Dementia Support Australia and services like the National Dementia Helpline can give you information and assistance.
There are also open days and seminars across the country informing people of the disease. These days help families understand how their lives will be impacted and how they can adapt.
However, when it comes to diagnosis – a medical professional is best.
Your doctor or GP should be able to judge your concerns with a preliminary assessment.
The process could simply be part of a pre-booked check-up, or as an appointment on its own. It is important to tell your doctor any specific worries you have to better inform them of the situation, as well as for your own peace of mind. It is also good to use someone who you are familiar with and knows you.
You may be transferred to an outside specialist. This will normally be a:
They will be able to provide a more accurate and detailed health assessment than a preliminary test.
Going to the doctor to get any diagnosis is always stressful. However, knowing what to expect can help make this a little less nerve racking.
Normally assessments will involve three parts, 1) a look into personal and medical history, 2) a physical and scientific examination, and 3) a cognitive test.
It is a good idea to bring along close friends or family along to the appointment to help provide accurate information and more specific details.
An effective way to illustrate the extent of your memory concerns is to start a list. Write down moments you or your loved one were confused or forgot something they should not have. These lists can help drive questions for the GP or the specialist later on.
1. Personal and medical history:
When looking into the personal and medical history of the person.
Since dementia is genetic – the likelihood of developing it later on much higher if a family member already has it. During an appointment there is usually a discussion of family health so it’s a good idea to get a grasp of the local family tree before heading in.
Medical history is also a very important factor. As mentioned early, the chances of developing dementia increase dramatically if there is any prior heart attacks, strokes or drinking and smoking.
Any current medication may also be having side effects that appear as symptoms of dementia, so an overlook will determine whether it is affecting behaviour.
2. Physical and scientific examination:
Dementia symptoms can frequently be explained by other issues, like sleeplessness, sickness, or stress. The tests might also require a blood or urine sample to help rule out any of the following:
3. Cognitive tests:
Finally, a cognitive test will evaluate mental functions. This can be memory and spatial judgement, concentrations and problem solving. The details of the tests depend on whether you are visiting a specialist.
Cognitive tests determine what type of dementia might be present and help in making any medical recommendations.