How to get tested for dementia

If you or someone you know is concerned about having dementia, it’s important that you can identify the warning signs, know when to talk to your doctor and understand how dementia is diagnosed. Follow these steps.

Granddaughter hugging her grandmother.

Check out our full brochure for more information on getting a diagnosis. You can also download the full toolkit that guides you through the diagnostic process.

How can you determine that you have dementia?

Lately, you may find yourself having difficulties remembering something. It could be the name of a classmate you used to know. Or, you could be struggling to do tasks that are familiar to you, like balancing your chequebook. It's a frustrating feeling, and you may be asking yourself questions like:

Why can't I remember this?

Do I have dementia?

How can I be sure that I have dementia?

Do I need to see a doctor?

If I do have dementia...what happens next?

Getting the answers to these questions can be tricky. Rest assured, the information in this section can help you determine if you are indeed showing signs of dementia, whether you need to see your doctor about your concerns, and what to expect should your doctor recommend that you get tested.

If you are concerned about your memory, the first step you can take is to figure out whether the difficulties with your memory are closer to the signs of dementia, or instead a part of normal aging.

Know the difference between normal aging and dementia

The first step you can take? Determine whether the difficulties with your memory are closer to the signs of dementia or, instead, a part of your normal aging.

Not all memory loss is the same, and some memory loss can be considered to be a natural part of the aging process.

Learn more about the differences between normal aging and dementia.

Know the 10 warning signs of dementia

Memory loss, both short-term and long-term, is not the only sign of dementia.

Some other common signs of dementia include:

  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks,
  • Problems with language and abstract thinking and
  • Changes in mood or behaviour.

By knowing the 10 warning signs of dementia, you may be able to spot dementia in its earliest stages, and get the benefits of an early diagnosis.

Learn more about the 10 most common warning signs of dementia.

Know the 10 benefits of early diagnosis

Getting a diagnosis is a tough experience. It may be tempting to avoid getting tested. After all, doesn't the saying go "Ignorance is bliss"?

However, having a proper, early diagnosis is a critical first step to getting treatment, support and education that you may need to live well.

Finding out the cause of your symptoms can help you:

  • Be actively involved in decisions involving you and your healthcare,
  • Benefit from treatments that are more effective in the early stage,
  • Focus on what's important to you and plan for your future.

Learn more about the 10 benefits of an early diagnosis.

Prepare for your doctor's visit

If you've determined that you are seeing signs of dementia, it's time to make an appointment with your family doctor.

It's important to be open and honest in answering any questions your doctor may have. Only a qualified healthcare provider, like your doctor or a specialist, can make an official diagnosis of dementia. The more information you can give them, the likelier a conclusive diagnosis can be reached.

Get some tips on how to talk to your doctor about dementia.

Understand how diagnosis works

However, you should also know that a diagnosis can take a long time. To ensure that you have an accurate diagnosis, you may be required to take additional tests, or be referred to a memory clinic or a specialist.

Why may that happen? One reason is that there is no one specific test that can diagnose dementia. If your doctor suspects dementia after your initial assessment, but can't make a definitive conclusion, you will most likely undergo a number of physical and cognitive exams. These exams can determine if you are showing signs that line up with the symptoms of dementia.

Once your doctor has a combination of test results, along with your detailed medical history, they should have the evidence needed to give you an official diagnosis.

Know what to expect while getting your diagnosis.

Know that online self-assessments may not be qualified to diagnose you

You might hear that you don't need to see a doctor to get a diagnosis. Online self-assessments, for example, seem to be an easy way to evaluate your cognitive health. These tests often claim that they can diagnose you effectively, telling you whether you have dementia or not based on the answers you enter.

However, there are many risks involved with taking these online self-assessments, including:

  • Incomplete or inaccurate information that can lead you to make healthcare decisions that can be harmful,
  • The possibility of "false positives" and "false negatives" and
  • Ethical concerns that arise from conflicts of interest from the organization behind an online-self assessment.

Instead of taking an online self-assessment, we recommend that you talk to a qualified healthcare provider, like your doctor, to ensure a safe and accurate diagnosis.

Learn more about the risks of online self-assessments.

Take the first steps after diagnosis

What happens if you've received an official diagnosis, and your worst fears are true – you have dementia?

The first thing to know is that you are not alone.

  • You are part of the Alzheimer Society's mission to alleviate the personal and social consequences that you may face as a result of living with dementia.
  • We can provide you with education, resources and support that can help you make informed decisions about your well-being and help you live with dementia.
  • You are about to start a new chapter in your life, but that doesn't mean you have to face this disease alone.
  • We are here to help you and your family navigate through your journey with dementia.

Learn about the first steps to take after being diagnosed with dementia.

More useful links and resources

Getting a diagnosis. Alzheimer Society of Canada. This downloadable brochure summarizes what you need to know about getting a diagnosis, including how to prepare for your assessment and what to expect during the diagnostic process.

Getting a diagnosis toolkit. Alzheimer Society of Canada. Use this toolkit to help you prepare for a conversation with your doctor or healthcare provider about your concerns and questions about a possible dementia diagnosis.

When should you be concerned about your memory? FreeDem Films, 2013. This two-minute animation can help you decide if it's time to see your doctor. This video was created by Dr. Sabina Brennan of Trinity College Dublin and Trinity Brain Health. Permission to use this video was granted by Trinity Brain Health, which reserves all rights.

The 10 benefits of early diagnosis

People with dementia can live meaningful and productive lives for many years after an early diagnosis. Dementia diagnosed early helps both the person and family members to learn about the disease, set realistic expectations and plan for their future together.

Learn more
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Talking to your doctor about dementia

Getting an official diagnosis begins with your family doctor. Your doctor can also help answer questions you may have about dementia. In preparation for your doctor's appointment, here are some helpful things to know and expect.

Learn more
Smiling senior woman talking to her doctor.

What to expect while getting your diagnosis

There is no one specific test that can diagnose dementia. By understanding your medical history and examining your physical and cognitive health, your doctor may provide you with a diagnosis, recommend further exams, or refer you to a specialist.

Learn more
Senior woman petting her cat.

Reacting to your diagnosis

Your doctor has just told you that you have dementia. This may come as a shock – or, you may feel relief at finally being able to put a name to your symptoms.

Learn more
Doctor talking to a senior woman with a sad expression.

The risks of online self-assessments

Only a qualified healthcare provider, like your doctor, can provide you with an official dementia diagnosis. In comparison, getting a diagnosis through an online self-assessment may give you inaccurate, misleading information and put you at risk.

Learn more
Senior man on his laptop.