Diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease

Visit your GP if you are worried about your health and think that you or someone close to you may have Alzheimer’s disease.

The GP will want to know about any new or worsening problems that you have noticed, such as:

  • forgetfulness
  • speech problems
  • changes in your behaviour
  • difficulty with everyday activities

Read more about the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease.

Similar conditions

Alzheimer’s disease can be a difficult condition to diagnose because the symptoms can be similar to those of other health conditions. For example, the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease may be confused with:

  • a vitamin deficiency – where there is not enough of one of the vitamins that your body needs to function
  • thyroid problems – your thyroid gland is in your neck and produces hormones (powerful chemicals)
  • an infection
  • anxiety
  • a brain tumour – a growth of cells in your brain
  • depression


There is no simple, reliable test for diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease, so the diagnosis is usually based on ruling out other conditions. You may have blood tests and a physical examination to rule out other medical conditions that could be causing your symptoms.

If your GP suspects Alzheimer’s disease, you may also be given a brain scan, which will look for changes in your brain. This could be:

For more information about the different tests that you might have, read how dementia is diagnosed


Your GP may refer you to a specialist to help with the diagnosis. For example, you may be referred to:

  • a clinical psychologist – a healthcare professional who specialises in the assessment and treatment of mental health conditions
  • a psychiatrist – a qualified medical doctor who has further training in treating mental health conditions
  • a neurologist – a specialist in treating conditions that affect the nervous system (the brain and spinal cord)

Your specialist may carry out some tests to assess your memory and thinking skills. One example is explained below.

Screening questionnaires

A screening questionnaire may sometimes be used to help assess the severity of Alzheimer’s disease. These cannot provide a diagnosis on their own but may help as part of a full individual assessment to help determine the treatment you should receive.

Confirmed diagnosis

It may take several appointments with your GP and specialist before a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease can be confirmed.

If you are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, your GP or specialist may recommend that the diagnosis is shared with your family or your carers. This should only be done with your permission.


If you’re caring for an adult who lacks the mental capacity to ask to see information held about them, you may want to make such a request yourself. The local authority or healthcare organisation that holds the information may be concerned about confidentiality and be reluctant to give you the information.

Authorities have to consider the issues. On the one hand, they have a duty of confidentiality to the adult who lacks the mental capacity. On the other hand, disclosing that information to a parent or carer may be in the adult’s best interests. For example, it may mean that the parent or carer can dispute a decision.

Read more information about confidentiality and mental health.

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