If you or a loved one are struggling with symptoms such as forgetfulness, confusion and losing things, typical of early-onset dementia, it can be a stressful time. However, while dementia isn’t curable, it can be treated successfully in the initial stages, so it is important to get a diagnosis quickly. Here we explain what happens at a memory clinic, and the treatment and support on offer.
Usually, your GP will refer you to a memory clinic if you attend with memory problems and poor mental functioning. Unfortunately, doctors generally lack the time and resources to make a proper diagnosis themselves.
A visit to a memory clinic will offer an assessment and address concerns about your memory. Take a family member or friend with you when visiting the clinic. You may alternatively wish to take your carer if you employ a specialist care worker from an agency such as Guardian Carers. Remember to bring your glasses and/or hearing aid, and details of all your medication.
So what happens at a memory clinic? Memory clinics have multidisciplinary teams staffed by specialists such as geriatricians, psychologists and dementia nurses. Memory clinics offer testing and diagnosis, provide treatment, and support people living with dementia who may have conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease or other neurological problems. They can also signpost you to services that can help you to live well in the community. There are both NHS and private memory clinics available.
The doctor will ask about your memory problems and take a medical history, which is helpful in identifying patterns in the way the disease has progressed. They may carry out a series of cognitive function tests which will look at how well you retain information, giving an insight into your mental functioning.
The doctor will also talk to your friends, family members or carer to hear what they say about your behaviour and memory problems. This is known as a ‘collateral history’ and it is important in filling in the whole picture: it can assist with diagnosis and treatment.
You may be referred to a hospital for brain function tests. Computerised Tomography (CT) scans use X-rays to detect brain changes. A Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan is more detailed and gives information about the blood supply to the brain. An EEG uses electroencephalogram imaging to chart electrical activity in the brain, while a SPECT scan uses Single Photon Emission Computerised Tomography to examine the brain’s blood flow.
If you are diagnosed with dementia, the team at the clinic can prescribe anti-dementia medication. They will also offer counselling and non-drug treatments, including cognitive stimulation therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
Memory rehabilitation techniques will be available, and the team might perhaps facilitate a life story project to help you review your identity and build a personal biography. Family and friends can also get help from the team based around supporting someone with the disease, and sometimes training for them is available, ensuring proper support and the best quality of life for you, the subject.