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Alzheimer's disease

See your GP if you are worried about your memory or think you may have dementia.

See your GP if you are worried about your memory or think you may have dementia.

If you're worried about someone else, you should encourage them to make an appointment and perhaps suggest that you go along with them.

An early diagnosis gives you the best chance to prepare and plan for the future, as well as receive any treatment that may help.

Seeing your GP

Memory problems are not just caused by dementia – they can also be caused by depression, stress, medications or other health problems. Read about common causes of memory loss.

Your GP will be able to carry out some simple checks to try to find out what the cause may be. They can refer you to a specialist for further tests if necessary.

Your GP will ask about your symptoms and other aspects of your health, and will carry out a physical examination. They may also organise some blood tests and ask about any medication you are taking to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms.

You may also be asked some questions or be asked to carry out some simple activities to assess any problems with your memory or your ability to think clearly. This can help your GP decide if you need to be referred to a specialist for further assessment.

Referral to a specialist

Your GP may refer you to a specialist to help with your diagnosis. For example, you may be referred to:

  • a clinical psychologist – a healthcare professional who specialises in the assessment and treatment of mental health conditions
  • a psychiatrist – a qualified medical doctor who has further training in treating mental health conditions
  • a neurologist – a specialist in treating conditions that affect the nervous system (the brain and spinal cord)

The specialist may be based in a memory clinic alongside other professionals who are experts in diagnosing, caring for and advising people with dementia and their families.

There is no simple and reliable test for diagnosing Alzheimer's disease, but your specialist can help assess your memory and thinking skills, and arrange further tests to rule out other conditions.

Assessing your mental abilities 

A specialist will usually assess your mental abilities using a special questionnaire. 

One widely used test is the mini mental state examination (MMSE). This involves being asked to carry out activities such as memorising a short list of objects correctly and identifying the current day of the week, month and year.

The MMSE is not used to diagnose Alzheimer's disease, but it is useful for assessing the level of mental impairment that a person with the condition may have. This helps specialists make decisions about treatment and whether further tests are necessary.


To rule out other possible causes of your symptoms and look for possible signs of damage caused by Alzheimer's disease, your specialist may recommend having a brain scan. This could be a:

Read more about tests for diagnosing dementia

After diagnosis

It may take several appointments and tests over months, or even years, before a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease can be confirmed.

For some people, a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease is a huge shock, whereas for others it simply confirms what had been suspected for a long time.

If you've just had a diagnosis of dementia, you're probably feeling numb, scared and unable to take everything in, so give yourself a little time to adjust. It might help to talk things through with family and friends.

Once the initial feelings have passed, it's important to think about moving forward and creating an action plan for the future. Dementia is a progressive illness, so the sooner you take care of legal, financial and healthcare matters, the better.

Read more about what to do if you've just been diagnosed with dementia.

Content Supplied by NHS Choices

Alzheimer's disease

Stan Lintern has had Alzheimer's disease for 10 years. He is cared for by his wife Denise, who helped to set up the Maidstone branch of the Alzheimer's Society.

Stan Lintern has had Alzheimer's disease for 10 years. He is cared for by his wife Denise, who helped set up the Maidstone branch of the Alzheimer's Society and runs the helpline. Last year, she was awarded an MBE for services to her local community. They have three children.

"I was 49 when Stan was diagnosed. He'd been having problems with his memory for a bit and, after taking early retirement, he was lacking in motivation. We thought it was due to him missing his work. His behaviour began to be a bit odd at times, so when I was seeing our GP, I mentioned it. The GP suggested that Stan go for an appointment. After about six months of extensive tests, Stan was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

"It was a devastating shock, but also good because at least we knew what we were dealing with. It had been horrible not knowing what was causing his weird behaviour.

"For the first few years, we carried on with normal life. Stan was a Premier League table tennis player and he still enjoyed doing that. He continued to drive and we went on lots of holidays. He was a very meticulous man and liked everything to be 'just so'. But, as the Alzheimer's took over, he just decided he wasn't going to do things any more. I think he thought that if he couldn't do it the way he liked to do it, he wasn't going to bother anymore.

"Every time there has been a big change with Stan, I have to stop and take stock. Stan needs full-time care now. He's in a wheelchair and needs to be fed. He doesn't speak anymore and I'm not sure that he understands what I'm saying. I have some outside help during the week, but mostly it's down to me.

"We still go away. I have a hoist for getting him around indoors and a transporter 'truck' with a hydraulic tail lift to go out in. We still like going to Holland to see my cousins and their families, and visiting various places in the UK. The only thing we don't do is fly anywhere. I don't feel a prisoner because I've made sure that I can be independent and that we can get away. Stan is always more awake and aware when we're doing something different."

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