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Getting a dementia diagnosis – where do you start?

Getting a dementia diagnosis – where do you start?

It can start with something simple, like having trouble following your favourite recipe, or putting your car keys in the fridge. Maybe you’ve noticed small changes in your memory that are affecting how you do things day-to-day.

If you can’t quite remember things that should be straightforward for you, or if you notice changes in your mood or ability to communicate, make an appointment to see your family doctor right away.

Diagnosing dementia is a complex and difficult process. The first thing your doctor will do is try to rule out if it’s a treatable condition, like depression or even an infection.

By finding out what is causing your symptoms, you can get the right kind of care, support and access to treatments as early as possible.

Be prepared to start the conversation with your doctor:

  • Take the time to review the 10 warning signs of dementia. This is important because dementia is not a normal part of aging, nor is memory loss the only symptom.
  • Jot down the signs you’ve been noticing in yourself. When did these start? Have they changed over time? This information will keep your conversation focused.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Ask your doctor if your symptoms could be caused by another health condition.
  • Be sure to let him or her know about your medical history, including any medications you’re currently taking.
  • Ask your doctor to explain what tests you’ll need and how long these will take.
  • Will you need to see a specialist or a series of specialists? How will you need to prepare for these visits?

For more tips on getting ready for your doctor’s visit, download our Getting a diagnosis toolkit. It offers a whole list of questions to ask as well as detailed information about the warning signs and what you can expect during the diagnosis process.

And, if you’re concerned about someone else, we encourage you to pass our toolkit along.


Getting an early diagnosis helps you and your family take control of the situation, plan for future and live as well as possible with dementia. Learn more about the benefits of an early diagnosis

Why I work for the Alzheimer Society

Why I work for the Alzheimer Society

Elizabeth Barrie is a First Link® outreach worker for the Alzheimer Society of Oxford. She shares her personal connection to the disease.

What is your connection to Alzheimer’s disease?

My mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease when I was parenting three young daughters. I had to juggle the expectations of motherhood with the demands of supporting my parents as they navigated the uncharted waters of dementia.

Never one to complain or dwell on the negative, Mom continued to participate actively in her community, writing for the newspaper, playing the piano at church and helping to lead choirs.  Remaining active, socially and physically, was essential to Mom’s health and well-being throughout her journey.  In spite of the changes in her brain, Mom did all she could to care for her family – and what she couldn’t do, Dad did for her. Their 15-year journey with Alzheimer’s disease was a labour of love for both of them.

What were the initial warning signs that led you to believe your mother’s health was changing?

She began taking notes when she and I would have conversations over the phone.   When I asked her questions she would read from her notebook about the conversations she’d had with other family members rather than respond from memory.

Mom also began repeating stories and had difficulty finding words, which progressed over time.

Soon after her diagnosis, I remember finding Mom trying to open a can of soup using a hammer and nail. She didn’t recognize the manual can-opener in her kitchen drawer.  This was a stark reminder that Mom’s changing brain was going to make even smallest tasks harder to complete, especially in the kitchen.

What support, if any, did you access?

I remember the day I drove to the Alzheimer Society office without an appointment and entered feeling completely overwhelmed and scared. A woman on staff made time for me right away, answering my questions, validating my feelings, and sharing my tears.

I had held it together as long as I could, but when I reached my breaking point, I needed somewhere to turn with someone who would understand and could help.

The Alzheimer Society provided all that I needed and more.  I was sent home with resources to read and share with my family, tips to engage Mom and above all reassurance that we were not alone.

Follow-up calls and opportunities for myself and all the members of my family to access education and support came as needed.  This help proved invaluable over the course of Mom’s journey.

As a family, we learned to live “in the moment” with Mom.  We understood the importance of music, family, laughter and conversation, and we engaged Mom in as many ways as we could, for as long as we could.

When we were lacking information, the Alzheimer Society provided it for us. They shared helpful coping strategies and tips, lending a listening ear at the times when we felt depleted of strength. This was a gift.

Read more stories like Elizabeth’s.

elizabeth-barrieElizabeth Barrie

First Link® outreach worker

Alzheimer Society of Oxford

I have what? Frontotemporal dementia?

I have what? Frontotemporal dementia?

As I drove us to the 9:00 a.m. meeting with Dr. Didyk a geriatrician, many thoughts ran through my head. Here we go, another appointment with another doctor. One more stupid test. I hate when they ask me to write down the clock time because I know what time it is. I’m looking forward to my Timmy’s coffee.

Once Dawn and I arrived at the hospital, we grabbed a coffee and headed off to the waiting room of the gerontology area. I asked myself, “How can I only be 45 years old and be sitting here?”

Within minutes we were led into the examination room and the nurse arrived. Same old, same old. It really bothered me that after years of battling serious depression, memory loss and behavioural changes, no one has provided me with a sound medical diagnosis. That was all about to change.

Nurse Julie began the mini–mental state examination (MMSE). Sure enough, there were the questions about time. I uttered to her that I don’t have a problem with time. We continued on. Finally, the last of 30 questions lay in front of me. My mind was tired and it had become hard to stay focused. I didn’t have the brain power to answer any more questions – we were finished. After asking Dawn and I a few more questions about my health, she disappeared to tally the results.

Soon, the door opened and Nurse Julie appeared with Dr.Didyk. Everyone sat down.
The doctor immediately started to discuss the results of the MMSE. Six months ago, I had taken the same test and scored 24. Today, my score was 18 – an obvious, significant decrease. I’m not sure of all the things she discussed, but I do remember this: “You have Frontotemporal Lobe Dementia or FTD.”

Whoa…. no one has ever used those words before. I knew I was cognitively impaired but what was this FTD thing?

The doctor went on to explain more about FTD including that my amount of education will help. More blurred talk. FTD is a rare form of dementia and is incurable. Dawn and I looked at each other. Could this really be happening? More blurred talk. You will not be able to drive anymore effective immediately.

Whaaaattttt? O.K. This is now serious. More blurred talk.

I stopped hearing the rest of the conversation. The only thing I could hear in my head was, “You can’t drive.” You don’t have a driver’s license!” I started to see red. I flew out of my chair and threw some papers in the garbage. I stormed out of the office trying my best to slam the door shut. I tried a few times.

I continued on to the hospital hall and stopped. I began to pace up and down mumbling to myself. How could this be? How can I have dementia? How can my license be removed? How can my license be removed? How can I have dementia? How can my license be removed? How can my license be removed? How can I have dementia? My head was in a swirl.

I continued to pace. My cell phone rang and it was Dawn asking where I was, if I was o.k. And for me to come back into the room. No! I’m not coming back into the room because I don’t want to hear anymore. I continued to pace.

Eventually, Dawn came out of the examination room and approached me in the hall. We said nothing and I handed my car keys to her. We headed out towards the car. Dawn proceeded to take my usual seat at the wheel and I took her usual seat as a passenger.

FTD had changed our lives forever.

This article was previously posted on the Alzheimer Society of London-Middlesex blog. Read more from Mary Beth.

fdd8c873df2214bMary Beth Wighton

Person living with dementia