What Is A Memory Assessment?
Whether it is you or a loved one who is finding that they’re persistently forgetting things, struggling with words, losing their bearings regularly or other similar symptoms, you may be concerned about the onset of dementia.
Dementia in itself is not a disease, it is, according to the Alzheimer’s Society, “a set of symptoms that occur when the brain is damaged by certain diseases (such as Alzheimer’s disease) or a series of small strokes.” The changes in behaviour though may be enough in themselves to see you approaching your GP to ask for a memory assessment, so that dementia can be either ruled out as the cause or further investigation begun. This isn’t a quick process though and you should be prepared to attend a series of appointments over several weeks and even months before a diagnosis can be made.
Are Memory Assessments Run at Clinics?
The location of memory assessments depends on a number of factors, such as the facilities available at your GP surgery, the type of test needed and how far along the diagnosis pathway you may be.
The GP may refer you to a specialist to have some tests undertaken, which can range from written cognition tests, blood tests to rule out other underlying health problems that may be causing your symptoms, or checking that any current medication you take isn’t causing the symptoms you’re experiencing.
Why Do They Exist?
Memory assessments exist to diagnose whether the symptoms you or a loved one are living with could be caused by dementia. Your GP will usually begin the process with some written tests that, according to the NHS website, are mostly “a series of pen-and-paper tests and questions, each of which carries a score.” A particularly common one that your GP may initially use is “the General Practitioner Assessment of Cognition (GPCOG).”
These tests can show up memory difficulties and while cannot diagnose dementia on their own, can certainly demonstrate that memory difficulties exist that warrant further investigation.
What Happens at A Memory Assessment?
Memory assessments will usually begin with a visit to your GP, although some people may be assessed in hospital if they have already been admitted for another reason and fall into the over-75s age group. If you’re being assessed by a GP, there will be an initial assessment carried out that will consist of different stages, including taking a history, physical examinations, and mental ability assessments.
The GP will want to find out as much about you or your loved one as possible at the initial assessment and may even be able to visit you at home so that they can assess you in a more natural and comfortable environment for you. It’s also advisable to have someone with you who knows you well when you’re being assessed, so that they can help you to remember information that you may not be able to recall.
Your GP will most likely want to refer you for further assessment after they’ve conducted their tests and therefore it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to give you a definite diagnosis of dementia straight away. However, they will usually have a good indication of whether there is significant cognitive impairment present or whether your symptoms are down to the more normal signs of ageing, although it will often be very apparent to loved ones which of those the person is living with.
It would usually be the case that symptoms are significantly severe enough to impact the person’s day-to-day life before loved ones even seek out a diagnosis, so it’s likely they would have recognised the difference between that and occasional age-related memory lapses.
Taking a history: Your GP will chat to you and the other person and ask questions about you, such as when your symptoms started and the affect they’re having on your day-to-day life. Your GP will also look at your medical history, as well as that of your family, and review medications that you may be taking, as these can also reveal information about the extent of any cognitive decline you may be experiencing.
Physical examinations and tests: Your GP may want to carry out a physical examination, especially if there is a likelihood that you have had a stroke or are living with Parkinson’s disease. They’ll also usually take blood and urine samples to be sent off for testing, as these will help to reveal any possible underlying medical conditions that could be affecting your cognitive function.
Assessment of mental abilities: Your GP may use an array of different types of tests to see how your mental abilities are performing. These can include pen-and-paper tests and oral questioning.
After your assessment you’ll most likely be referred to a specialist, unless you particularly ask not to be and don’t wish to be assessed further. The type of specialist you meet will vary according to the services available in your area, whether you have pre-existing conditions and which age group you fall into. According to the Alzheimer’s Society you could see a specialist as part of “a memory assessment service, memory clinic or other specialist service within a community mental health team.”
Your consultant may be part of a wider team of professionals including doctors, mental health nurses, psychologists and dementia advisors and will usually carry out a similar assessment to your GP but in much greater detail. They will also examine your history, test your mental abilities and may conduct a physical examination just as your GP did, but will have the resources, staffing and facilities to examine these at a much greater depth and for a longer period of time.
Getting Your Results
Once the specialist has all the information available to them and are sure of your diagnosis they will be able to inform you whether you have dementia or not, and if so, the type of dementia you are living with. They will have a consultation with you and if you wish, they will tell you the results of your assessment, although you have the right not to be told if you don’t think you want to know.
It might be the case that you’d rather your loved one was told and if that’s your choice, the consultant will respect that. You should have been offered counselling before you went through the assessments to prepare you for the eventual diagnosis, and your loved ones will therefore also be prepared for whichever outcome arises.
The Next Steps
There is an awful lot to think about and a great deal of information to take in once a diagnosis of dementia has been made, and it is vital that the person and their loved ones receive appropriate levels of support so that they can come to terms with what the future may bring. The person themselves and their loved ones may be anxious about different aspects of their dementia journey; for instance, the person may be concerned that they will forget who their loved ones are whereas their loved ones may be more concerned about how they are going to care for the person.
The Alzheimer’s Society tell us that “Most memory services also offer sessions, running for several weeks after diagnosis, at which the person and those close to them can talk through the next steps in more detail and receive further written information.” The type of information that the sessions can help with include living well with dementia, planning, medication, accessing local support services and much more.
Your Treatment Plan
The consultant will be able to prescribe medication if appropriate, and get the person started on relevant courses of treatment, but once the longer-term sessions have been completed they will usually hand responsibility for the person’s care back to the GP. This isn’t to say that you won’t see a consultant again at any point, as if your GP thinks it’s necessary they can refer you back to them at any time, especially as your dementia progresses or your symptoms change significantly.
This may be when professional care options are explored too, as it may become too much for loved ones to care for the person or they may not have family living close by. Your GP will usually remain the first point of contact if you or your loved ones are concerned about any aspect of your dementia, but you may spend time with a range of healthcare professionals in the course of your dementia journey.
How We Can Help Care for Your Diagnosis
At Helping Hands, we understand dementia. We were established in 1989 and since then we have cared for thousands of people living with Alzheimer’s, vascular dementia, Lewy Body, frontotemporal, and many other, often rarer types of dementia. We are considered a dementia specialist thanks to the amount of our customers we have supported along their dementia journey, and we also ensure that their loved ones get all the support they need to.
Of course, we’re there primarily to ensure that the customer lives their life at home as well as possible with dementia, however we are there for their loved ones too, always remembering that they are going through a significant life-changing event, just as their family member is. We can deliver dementia care in our customers’ own homes on either a visiting or live-in basis and remaining at home for dementia care has far reaching benefits, such as helping to reduce confusion by being around familiar people, pets and possessions.
There’s no need to worry about leaving a beloved home when you need dementia care, as thanks to our compassionate carers and managers across the whole of England and Wales we will always be on hand to support you, for as long as you need us.
To discover more about our dementia care services please call our friendly customer care specialist team seven days a week, or alternatively, contact us via our website and we’ll be happy to call you back.
Page reviewed by Deanna Lane, Senior Regional Clinical Lead on September 16, 2021