If you are worried that somebody you know may have dementia, it is a good idea to consult a General Practitioner (GP). It is important to seek the help of a professional as the symptoms of dementia can be similar to other health conditions, without consulting a GP the condition could be incorrectly diagnosed. For example, somebody who is experiencing memory problems may assume that they have dementia without seeking a professional’s opinion. In reality, memory problems can be caused by other conditions such as depression, anxiety, delirium, thyroid problems etc. Therefore, it is best to consult a GP in order to avoid lost time and negative future circumstances.

Person not wanting to contact a GP

It is a common occurrence that the person who may have dementia does not want to contact the GP at all. There are a variety of reasons why the person may feel this way, which will depend on the personality of the individual and their underlying motivations. Typically, the person will be feeling frightened of getting a diagnosis and may think that they will lose their independence. In some cases, the person may not even understand the concerns about their condition due to failing memory and changes in their behaviour. Therefore, it is important to reassure the person and highlight that their symptoms may be due to another potentially treatable condition. This could help them become more willing to visit their GP.

If the person still refuses consult a GP, it may be useful to contact the appropriate surgery directly and explain the situation. The GP may be able to conduct a home visit to speak to the person in question, which can be considered a more comfortable and safe location for diagnosis. It is important to consider the possibility that the GP may not be able to discuss confidential information with you, depending on the preference of the person in question.

What to expect

After the person has agreed to consult a GP regarding their condition, there are various steps that need to be undertaken in order to arrive at the diagnosis. Initially, the GP will gather as much information regarding the person’s condition as possible. In order to do so, the person may be asked to complete some blood tests, receive a physical examination and answer a range of questions. These questions are designed to give an overview of the person’s wellbeing and may consist of the following:

  • When did the symptoms start?
  • How are you feeling physically?
  • How are you feeling mentally?
  • Day-to-day, have you noticed any differences in your health/wellbeing?

It may be helpful to have a family member or a close friend present during this process, as they will be able to give an account of the changes that they have noticed and how this affects the person in question.

If deemed necessary, the GP may also ask the person to complete a brain scan/MRI in order to obtain a more in-depth understanding of their neurological state. The GP may also wish to test the person’s memory and cognitive ability. They will do so by asking the person to answer straightforward questions and to complete simple tasks, such as the following:

  • What day is it today? Which month are we in? What is the year?
  • Name some common items that you might find in a kitchen?
  • Tests of repetition to analyse concentration and short term memory.
  • Asking the person to complete a drawing.

Given the nature of these questions and tasks, the person in question may become stressed or upset if they are struggling. Therefore, it is important to remain supportive throughout the examinations and continue to offer reassurance to the person throughout.

GP Referral

Once diagnosed, if the GP feels it necessary to do so, the person in question will be referred to a memory specialist. This process will be similar to consulting a GP, in that you will be asked to visit the specialist and they will need to conduct particular tests and retrieve specific information. Again, it may be possible to arrange a home visit from the specialist if this would make the person in question feel more comfortable.

Once acquainted, the specialist will take a detailed account of the person’s medical history as well as the medical history of their family members. As previously mentioned, in order to ensure that the person feels safe and relaxed, it is helpful to have a family member or close friend with them at this appointment. As well as giving social support, they will also be able to offer any relevant information to the specialist that the person may struggle communicating themselves.

The specialist will also conduct assessments involving the person’s cognitive abilities. It is important to note that these tests may be more difficult than the ones completed with the GP, which may cause the person to become frustrated or upset. Therefore, it is important to offer support if the person shows signs of distress. These assessments usually consist of tests of attention, memory, verbal fluency and language, as well as testing their visuospatial abilities by asking the person to copy diagrams or draw a clock. In addition, they will ask questions about the person’s abilities with everyday tasks such as shopping, housework, driving, and self-care, such as washing and dressing.

This process may take an extended amount of time to complete, as the specialist will want to gather as much information as possible for their evaluation. Once they feel satisfied with the analysis, they will be able to explain the person’s condition in more detail and discuss various possible treatments and future arrangements.

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