Getting diagnosed- Why bother?
If you are worried about the impact of memory loss, planning or judgment on your day to day life, it is a good idea to get your concerns checked out by a GP. Why?
- The changes may be the result of something treatable like depression or thyroid problems
- If it is dementia there are some medications available that could help to keep functioning at a better level than they otherwise would
- Knowing what you’re dealing with gives you the ability to tackle it head on. There is support and education available to give you the tools to help with this
- The earlier you know the better you can prepare for your future. You have more time to set up legal, financial and support plans according to your wishes.
Remember, a diagnosis of dementia does not mean a person’s life has to drastically change. It is an explanation for the changes that a person is experiencing and it can be a gateway to support, education and activities that promote well-being.
"The Unspoken Impact of Dementia" is a four minute Alzheimer's Australia video on YouTube depicting people living with dementia talking about their experiences.
What should I do before seeing my GP?
It can be a good idea to write down any of the concerns you have as well as examples of these. Take along a trusted support person so you can debrief with them afterwards, their perspective on the changes you’ve been experiencing can also be relevant and useful.
What can I expect from my GP appointment?
GP's in Canterbury all follow the same cognitive impairment health pathway which directs their assessment. The diagnosis of dementia requires an in-depth assessment that may include some or all of the following:
- A thorough physical examination including blood and urine tests
- A thorough medical history which may include discussion with your partner/family
- An examination of your mental well-being
- A MOCA (Montreal Cognitive Assessment) memory test
- A CT or MRI scan
- Referral for neuropsychiatric testing from a clinical psychologist
- Referral to the Memory Assessment Clinic at Burwood Hospital
The reason for such a rigourous approach is to make sure any other conditions that may explain the changes you are experiencing are excluded. It may take a few visits to your medical practice and other appointments if needed, before a diagnosis is made. Between visits it can be a good idea to write down any questions you may have and to have a support person accompany you to appointments.
Feelings after a diagnosis
If you have just received a diagnosis of dementia, or are concerned that you have dementia, you may be feeling devastated, alone and very anxious. These are common feelings people experience after getting a diagnosis of dementia and are completely normal and understandable.
It may reassure you to know that these feelings can and do pass for many people. These are quotes from members of a Memory Group at Dementia Canterbury:
“When I was diagnosed I felt desperate and worried”
“I was scared, my family didn’t handle it well.”
“It took a while to realise that I wasn’t going crazy and I wasn’t alone.”
“I want other people with dementia to know those feelings are normal and they will pass.”
There still exists a lot of stigma around dementia which can make coming to terms with a diagnosis even harder. The stigma associated with dementia can cut into a person’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem. Fortunately stigma can be challenged and a growing number of people living with dementia are doing just that. For some people one of the most powerful ways of coming to terms with a diagnosis of dementia is to talk to other people in the same situation. Discussing hopes and fears with others facing the same issues can help reduce some of the anxiety and sense of aloneness that a diagnosis can bring.