What is a memory clinic?

If you are experiencing cognitive issues such as memory loss, or you have a loved one who is showing signs of this, it can be an extremely distressing time when waiting to find out what the underlying cause could be. While it is not always related to conditions such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, this is a natural concern if you are an older adult, so it is always best to get checked out by professionals to learn more. 

Here, we are going behind the scenes of memory clinics to share what they do, why you might be referred to one, how to get a referral if you think you need one, what happens during and after the appointments, where to get further support, and more. Understanding more about this specialist clinic can put your mind at ease about visiting one yourself or with a loved one. 

At Home Instead, our aim is to help people age positively and in place by bringing expert care to their home. For nearly 20 years, we have been providing the highest standard of care, and creating industry-leading training programmes for our Care Professionals that are accredited by nursing and medical professionals. Today, we are the world’s largest global home care network, supporting over 100,000 older adults with personalised, tailored care at home. So whatever questions you have about memory clinics or dementia, we can help. 

What is a memory clinic? 

A memory clinic (sometimes referred to as a Memory Assessment Service) is a specialised facility dedicated to assessing memory and cognitive issues, diagnosing conditions, and providing further treatment. They are primarily used for the diagnosis of cognitive disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, but can be useful for other conditions too. 

The clinic will carry out cognitive assessments, review medical history, and do diagnostic brain imaging scans in order to get a broader picture of what might be causing a person’s memory problems or symptoms. They will also provide personalised care plans based on the results, treatment recommendations, and access to support services. 

Memory clinics are designed to help with early detection of cognitive issues and provide ongoing management of memory-related conditions in order to improve quality of life and wellbeing for individuals and their families. It is estimated in higher income countries that up to 50% of those with dementia go undiagnosed due to stigma, false beliefs about the disease, lack of medical education in primary care, and accessibility to diagnostic services. Memory clinics can help with early diagnosis and education in order to help more people with the condition maintain quality of life. 

If you are concerned about a potential dementia diagnosis, you may find our article on this condition helpful: What Is Dementia?

memory clinic

Why might someone be referred to a memory clinic? 

Memory clinics are often used when someone is experiencing cognitive impairment or memory loss, and a GP will typically refer patients there to learn more about what could be the underlying cause of their issues. 

A GP will initially perform an evaluation themselves, but if they suspect more specialist support is required, they may engage the help of a memory clinic. This could be the case for patients who are experiencing unexplained symptoms such as persistent forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, confusion, language problems, changes in mood or behaviour, challenges with problem-solving or decision-making, and more. These symptoms can indicate early-stage dementia, so it is important to escalate this to a memory clinic for swift intervention.

If you are concerned about early signs of dementia, you may find more useful information in our article: Managing The Stages Of Dementia

Although memory clinics play a big part in dementia diagnoses for older adults, they are not used solely for this condition. These clinics look at a range of different conditions with connections to the brain and cognition, and could also help with things like Parkinson’s disease, stroke-related symptoms, brain injuries, and more. 

How do I get a referral to a memory clinic?

If you are concerned about your cognitive health or have noticed memory lapses and other symptoms related to dementia, you may be wondering if you can get a referral to a memory clinic for further testing. This is usually possible if you visit your GP first. 

You should always start this process by booking an appointment with your own doctor who will conduct an initial assessment and perform cognitive tests in order to evaluate your symptoms. While they will not specialise in cognitive issues, they will have plenty of experience with similar symptoms and may be able to rule out certain conditions that could be causing cognitive symptoms, such as thyroid problems or a vitamin deficiency.

If they believe you require a referral to a memory clinic due to possible cognitive impairment, they will discuss this with you and refer you through the National Health Service. The waiting times for these appointments on the NHS can be lengthy, but if you would prefer you can seek an appointment at a private memory clinic which you will need to pay for. 

Sometimes people do not recognise memory issues or cognitive decline in themselves, so if you are caring for an older person or a loved one who is displaying symptoms that concern you, reach out to their GP to discuss your options, and they will talk you through the best way to seek a diagnosis and treatment for them.  

A GP is the best person to discuss a referral to a memory clinic with as they will ensure you are referred to one that is local, however if you are interested in finding memory clinics in your area it is best to call your doctor’s surgery for information, or your local council to find out if they have any nearby services. You may also find information on the Royal College of Psychiatrists website, as they have a list of all memory services in England (correct as of 2021). 

memory clinic

What happens at a memory clinic? 

A visit to a
memory clinic may seem like a scary appointment to attend, but remember the staff are there to help you and the tests are designed to get to the bottom of your cognitive issues so you can gain more insight into any potential conditions. The staff working in memory clinics often include teams of neurologists, psychiatrists, psychologists and geriatricians, so you may undertake further tests with more specialised doctors as more is discovered about your condition. 

Memory clinic appointments tend to follow a similar format:

  1. Initial consultation: You will be asked about your medical history, current concerns, and the experiences you have had that led to your appointment at the clinic. The doctors will aim to build up an accurate picture of what you have experienced so far in order to better understand what is going on. 
  2. Memory tests: Next, comprehensive cognitive tests and neurological examinations will be conducted to assess your memory, attention, language, and problem-solving skills. This ‘memory clinic test’ can help to establish a baseline for abilities prior to experiencing cognitive decline, and determine how the different parts of the brain are currently functioning. They look at things like recall and short-term memory, but remember there should be no pressure to perform well in these tests as they are purely designed to discover any areas of concern. 
  3. Brain imaging: If the clinic believes it necessary, you may be sent for brain imaging scans. This could be a CT or MRI scan to detect any structural abnormalities and see where damage has occurred. Clinicians can learn a lot from these tests, such as the brain’s blood supply, any affected blood vessels, any swelling, or tumour presence. CT scans can take images of the structure of the brain to see any areas impacted by dementia, or to rule out other causes. These scans might seem scary but they are painless, and the doctor will talk you through the process before you begin. 
  4. Diagnosis: Following the assessments, you will receive a diagnosis. A personalised care plan will be created based on your needs, and this will often include recommendations for medication, cognitive therapy, recommendations for lifestyle adaptations, and access to further support services. 
  5. Follow-up appointments: Memory clinics often provide ongoing monitoring and follow-up appointments, as well as support for patients and their families throughout the process of getting a diagnosis and beyond, so you may be invited back to the memory clinic several times for further testing, advice and support.

What happens after the visit?

After a visit to a memory clinic, you will receive a personalised care and support plan based on the diagnosis you have received, and this will be tailored to your needs. The care plan may include things like medication recommendations, cognitive therapy programs, or advice on lifestyle modifications that could support your cognitive health going forward. You can read more in our article: All About The Care Plan

Follow-up appointments will also be scheduled to monitor progress and adjust treatment plans as needed. Your GP will be informed of the ongoing treatment and care plan, so your care may be handed back to them where you can access local support services and community resources that could help you and your family navigate the challenges associated with cognitive conditions.

If you are attending memory clinic appointments with a relative who receives a diagnosis, you may also be offered educational resources to help you best support your loved one. 

Where can I get more support after a visit to a memory clinic?

A visit to a memory clinic can feel overwhelming, especially if you are worried about – or receive – a diagnosis of a cognitive condition such as dementia. Concerns about dementia can be isolating, so try to reach out to a loved one if you haven’t already to discuss how you are feeling. 

The memory clinic will provide you with advice and resources to make the next steps in your journey (whatever that may entail) easier and quicker, so you shouldn’t worry that you will be left alone or confused after a diagnosis is made. Remember, the clinic is staffed by professionals who understand the stress that a cognitive diagnosis can cause, so they will be well-versed in providing you with the resources you need. 

Many organisations offer support for those with a dementia diagnosis, so if you are looking for further advice you may find some useful information through the following charities:

  • Age UK have a lot of information about dementia support, and often have services in different local areas so you can make use of nearby resources  
  • Alzheimer’s Society has a support line you can call if you feel overwhelmed with your diagnosis and do not know where to begin: 0333 150 3456
  • Dementia UK is a national charity that helps to improve the quality of life for people living with dementia with the help of registered nurses and dementia experts

You may also find more helpful information in our articles:

If you are caring for someone who has received a dementia diagnosis, you may find these articles useful:

We understand how life-changing and overwhelming a dementia diagnosis can be, and often one of the first concerns people have is how they will manage living at home if they begin to forget things or struggle to carry out everyday tasks. While you come to terms with your diagnosis, you should avoid adding further stress like this to your life. 

If you have any questions about accessing home care in order to help you continue living independently in your own home with the help of our dementia-trained Care Professionals, reach out to the Home Instead team to discuss your needs (or possible future needs). We can talk you through how our highly trained carers can help you feel safe and confident as you navigate this challenging time in your life.  

Home Instead is an award-winning home care provider and part of a worldwide organisation devoted to providing the highest-quality relationship-led care for older people in their own homes. Arranging care for yourself or your loved one shouldn’t be stressful, so whatever questions you would like answered, feel free to reach out to the Home Instead team to discuss your needs.

Michelle Tennant

Michelle Tennant, Clinical Governance Lead

I am a Registered Nurse of 20 years and have been in the care sector since I was 17 years old, I have had experience in every role that exists in a care company, including Registered Manager, care consultant, recruiter, scheduling, auditing, complaints, and networking! My role in the National office is Clinical Governance Lead, and most recently have been working with DHSC and Chief Nurse Deborah Sturdy to develop a clinical governance framework for the delegated healthcare activities in social care, I am continuing to take the lead on our Healthcare at Home service and drive this in the network. In addition to my nursing role, I’m 4 years into my PhD in Aging at Lancaster University, with a key focus on the retention of Care Professionals in the social care sector.