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HealthInfo Canterbury

Diagnosing & treating dementia

There's no straightforward test for dementia. Sometimes, memory loss can be caused by side effects of medications or other medical conditions such as depression, infections, alcohol or drug use, vitamin B12 or folate deficiency or thyroid gland problems. There also might be problems with the brain such as bleeds or tumours. Your GP will ask about your memory-related symptoms, your family history and overall health and lifestyle.

Your GP may also suggest some tests to look at your memory, language and mental ability. These don't take long and are usually a series of questions or other exercises that your doctor or practice nurse asks you to complete. It's important that you take your glasses and hearing aid with you for these tests.

If there's no obvious cause, further tests may be needed. Your GP may request that you have blood and urine tests.

Sometimes your doctor may refer you for a brain scan to look at the structure of your brain. This is to rule out any other condition or forms of dementia. Dementia can be difficult to diagnose. If unsure, your GP may refer you to see a specialist.

Diagnosing dementia

Once tests and assessments are complete, you'll be given the results. If you're given a diagnosis of dementia, your GP or specialist will explain what having dementia means for you. Your GP may refer you to a specialist clinic for further assessments and treatments.

Information or questions to ask and discuss with your GP if you're diagnosed with dementia could include:

Medication for dementia

While there's no cure for dementia, there are some medications called cholinesterase inhibitors that may help some people. They work by either improving symptoms temporarily or slowing down the symptoms. Cholinesterase inhibitors available in New Zealand are donepezil, galantamine, and rivastigmine.

On the next page: Living well with dementia

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed August 2019.

Page reference: 5540

Review key: HIMLD-33325