Getting a diagnosis

Finding out if it’s dementia

Several conditions can lead to symptoms of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia.

Signs of dementia are unique to each person, but some of the common symptoms include:

  • Decline in memory, reasoning and communication skills
  • Gradual loss of the skills needed to carry out daily activities
  • Confusion

Some treatable conditions can produce symptoms similar to dementia, for example, vitamin deficiencies, thyroid disease, sleep disorders, alcohol abuse or depression. Similarly, other possible causes of confusion include poor sight or hearing. Because of this, it is important to arrange for a full medical assessment if you notice any changes in abilities or behaviours.

Our list of 10 warning signs (print-friendly version) will help you know what warning signs to look out for.

Why find out?

Finding out the cause of the symptoms can help you to:

  • Understand the cause of the symptoms
  • Get the proper care, treatment and support
  • Plan for the future

Making the diagnosis

There is no one specific test that can diagnose dementia. If dementia is suspected, a number of physical and cognitive tests will most likely be performed. A combination of the physical and cognitive test results, along with a detailed medical history, provides doctors with the evidence needed to make a diagnosis.

Physical tests: Your doctor will need detailed information about the person’s symptoms, medical history and current health and lifestyle. The doctor will also conduct a number of tests that will measure the person’s blood pressure, cholesterol levels, thyroid function and vitamin levels. A number of brain imaging tests may also be required, such as a computed tomography (CT) and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, to see if there is evidence of a recent stroke or changes to brain’s blood vessel, such as bleeds.

Cognitive tests: A doctor or another specialist, such as a neuropsychologist, may conduct some pen and paper tests, such as the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA), which measures judgement, planning, problem-solving, reasoning, and memory.

Making the diagnosis can take time. The diagnosis can be made by a family doctor or a specialist. When making the diagnosis, the doctor may or may not refer you to other health-care professionals. These may include a psychologist, psychiatrist, neurologist, geriatrician, nurse, social worker or occupational therapist.

More information

Check out our full brochure (print-friendly version) for more information on getting a diagnosis. You can also download the full toolkit.

Preparing for your doctor's visit

Preparing for your doctor's visit >

Things to do before, during and after your appointment to make the most of your visit.

Assessments and tests

Assessments and tests >

What to expect during the diagnostic process.

Memory screening

Memory screening >

Our position on memory screening and online self-assessments.

Last Updated: 09/23/2019