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Often people can live well with dementia for many years, but as there is no cure, is there any point to getting a diagnosis?
In this article, we ask a geriatrician, a person living with dementia and a carer about their experiences and why seeking a diagnosis is critical.
Reason 1: A diagnosis helps people get the right treatment at the right time
Many conditions have symptoms similar to dementia so it’s important to explore whether it is a different and treatable condition or whether it is dementia. Associate Professor Michael Woodward AM is a geriatrician and a Dementia Australia Honorary Medical Advisor. He explains that if it is dementia, seeking an accurate diagnosis is key to finding the next steps and appropriate treatment options.
"There may be a treatable reversible cause such as a vitamin deficiency, dehydration, depression or medication, but if in the treatment of these causes, cognitive changes continue to progress or fail to resolve, it is now time to look for other reasons and seek a diagnosis," Professor Woodward said.
“Someone should seek a diagnosis when memory loss or other changes in our thinking, mood or behaviour are increasing and especially if they are impacting on quality of life.
“An accurate diagnosis can enable appropriate choice of treatments, including symptomatic and, now (for some), disease modifying therapies.
“There is much that can be done, and planned for, but finding out the cause of symptoms must come first.”
Reason 2: Understanding the condition helps people take back control
Everyone’s experience of dementia is different but having a diagnosis can help people to better understand changes and what may happen in the future. Deidre cares for her husband Warren who lives with dementia and although receiving a dementia diagnosis was unexpected, it ultimately led to having options and regaining control of their life.
“When Warren was diagnosed, the feeling of grief was immediate and instant, thinking of all the terrible things we faced ahead of us,” Deidre said.
“We didn’t know anything about dementia, so I thought, ‘I need to learn more about this disease.’”
Having a definitive diagnosis meant Deidre and Warren had a greater understanding of what may be ahead and how to plan for the future.
“Information and knowledge are power. Once you have the information you have so many more avenues to explore and options to consider.”
Reason 3: Accessing support can help people to live well
The right support at the right time can enable people with dementia to maintain their independence and functional capacity for as long as possible. Russ lives with dementia and receiving an accurate diagnosis resulted in him seeking support and seeing the positives of life again.
“I was really depressed for about three months as I didn’t know what was going on,” Russ said.
“When I got the PCA (posterior cortical atrophy) diagnosis I was still a bit down, I’ve always said I wouldn’t want to have dementia. But then I got some counselling from Dementia Australia and the best thing I did was the Living With Dementia course.
“It changed my life and I think it changed my wife’s life too because we were talking to people who had dementia, people who knew what was going on, where the information was, what you could do and it made it very positive and it’s been very positive ever since.
“I load up on positives – there’s no room for negatives. I know I’m slipping but I can still do most things that I want to do, and I now have a lot of support to help me with the things I can’t.”
We are here for you
We know seeking or receiving a dementia diagnosis can be emotional, overwhelming and full of unknowns.
But a diagnosis means you can access vital support and resources sooner, to help maintain a better quality of life and plan for the future.
If you notice changes in cognition in yourself or a loved one, we are here for you.
We can support you to get a diagnosis and give access to life-changing services. Call us on 1800 100 500. We’re here 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
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