A reasonably accurate diagnosis of dementia can be made by taking a careful history of the person's problem from a close relative or friend, together with an examination of the person's physical and mental status. There is, however, no simple test to make a diagnosis and dementia can only be confirmed with certainty by examining the brain after death. When making a diagnosis, it is important to exclude other treatable conditions that cause memory loss such as depression, urinary infection, vitamin deficiency and brain tumour.

The impact of a dementia diagnosis depends greatly upon how it is made and imparted. Evidence suggests that when people with dementia and their families are well prepared and supported, initial feelings of shock, anger and grief are balanced by a sense of reassurance and empowerment.

An early diagnosis is helpful, because it:

  • enables carers and people with dementia to be better equipped to cope with the disease progression
  • provides people with dementia with an opportunity to make decisions about their financial and legal affairs while they still have the capacity to do so
  • gives people with dementia a better chance to benefit from available drug and non-drug therapies that may improve their cognition and enhance their quality of life.

Where next?