Preparing for a meeting with your doctor about potential dementia symptoms

You’ve spotted some signs of memory loss, you’re slightly worried, but what exactly do you need to take or prepare for at your first GP appointment and what can you expect?

If you’ve noticed that you or someone you know is having frequent memory difficulties, it may be time to see your GP. Once you’ve booked an appointment, here’s how to prepare and what you should expect.

You should bring…

- A list of any medications you’re taking
This is so the doctor can find out if there are any drugs that might be interacting and causing your memory problems.

- Details of any health conditions you may suffer from now (or in the past)
This includes depression, anxiety or any other health problems that may cause memory loss.

- A list of examples where there’s been an issue with memory
This may be something that your partner or relative brings along, but if you remember, note down any occasions where you’ve struggled with memory and when they happened. That way it’s easier to refer to them when the doctor starts asking for examples of memory problems.

- A list of any questions you have
Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the situation, and make sure you find out anything you’re unsure of, including medical terms and jargon.

- A partner, family member or friend
Bring someone along to provide moral support (although it’s likely that they’re the ones taking you to the doctor).

What to expect

Once you’re in the doctor’s office, this is how your appointment may pan out.

Symptoms
First off, the doctor will ask about the symptoms you’ve been having or that your partner or family member has noticed. This includes how and when they first started and how they’re affecting your life.

The doctor should also ask about other aspects of your general health. It’s really important that you’re honest so that the doctor can get a good idea of the situation. Don’t be shy – doctors are used to all sorts of issues from people who walk through their doors.

They’ll check your family health history and review any medications that you’re currently taking.

Physical examination
This is to check your general health and to find out if you may have suffered a stroke, or if Parkinson’s disease is suspected, both of which can cause memory loss.

Blood and urine tests
Your doctor may take samples of your blood and urine. This is to check for other health conditions that may be causing the memory loss symptoms. They will be sent off to a lab to be tested for particular chemicals. For example, if your memory problems are actually down to thyroid problems, then the blood test will find out if you have high levels of particular thyroid hormones.

Mental exercises
Finally, the GP will assess your cognitive abilities. These will be through a range of questions and tests. Please try not to worry too much about these tests. Your doctor is not trying to catch you out – they’re just keen to get a clear idea of how your brain is working.

What next?

Once the various tests and assessments have been done (which could be in that appointment or at a later appointment depending on time available), your doctor will explain the findings and what will happen next. In most cases, you will be referred to a specialist doctor or psychiatrist with experience of properly diagnosing dementia. You should see them within 4-6 weeks (and if it takes longer, contact your doctor to push for an appointment). You may also be referred for brain scans which will be checking the physiology of your brain.

It may seem daunting going through the process, but the sooner you have a proper diagnosis for your memory problems, the sooner you can start getting the right kind of treatment.