A memory clinic, or memory service, is somewhere people can go to have problems with their memory investigated. It is staffed by specialists in memory issues and these might be doctors, nurses or psychologists.
Memory clinics can carry out tests and offer a diagnosis, such as dementia, if you have been having problems with your memory. They can suggest treatment options and offer you support and advice.
They can also offer advice to your GP or your carers, family and friends about how to support you through any memory-related illness you may have.
You have most likely been referred to a memory clinic because you or those around you have been having concerns about your memory or your cognition. Your GP has perhaps done an initial examination but wants you to be seen by more specialised members of staff.
The people who work at the memory clinic have experience and specialist skills to help you.
If you want to get an appointment with a memory clinic, start with your GP. See them if you have any concerns about your memory, and they will refer you to a memory clinic if further tests are needed. Your GP may do some testing within your routine appointment, such as asking you to memorise a street address or to name different things, but they don’t have the specialist knowledge that those at the memory clinic have.
Occasionally, it will be a different professional other than your GP who will refer you to a memory clinic, such as a neurologist or a geriatrician.
Referrals take an average of 5-6 weeks in the UK, and getting a diagnosis takes an average of 8-9 weeks.
The specialist you see at the memory clinic will talk to you about your experiences and listen to any concerns you have about your memory. They will ask you why you have come to see them and listen while you explain the problems you have been having.
If somebody comes with you to the appointment, such as a family member, they may also be asked about their experiences of your memory problems. Perhaps you have been forgetful or confused doing daily tasks.
They may carry out some tests, but there is nothing you need to worry about. They don’t want to make you feel self-conscious or foolish if you forget something; these are special tests that will help them to understand how your memory is functioning. They are not something you can ‘pass’ or ‘fail’. They may also take some blood or do an EEG or a scan.
Sometimes, you will be asked to come back in a few months so that the doctor, nurse or psychologist can do some further tests and see how your condition has progressed. For instance, you may be more forgetful than the first time you attended or your condition might have remained stable.
Other times, the staff at the memory clinic might be able to explain your problems there and then. This may include a diagnosis, such as dementia, and information about the kind of dementia you have (such as vascular dementia or Alzheimer’s).
They will be able to answer any questions you or your loved ones have about your memory and how you will cope, now and in the future.
Once you have been assessed by the memory clinic and given a diagnosis and advice, you may be referred somewhere for ongoing support, such as a community mental health team (CMHT). You might also be given further appointments at the memory clinic.
You and your loved ones will be given information about your condition and you can start to plan for the future, which could include recruiting at-home carers to support you to live independently in your home.
You might feel shaken by what you have learned at the memory clinic, but having the right information is ultimately the best thing, even if you got news you did not want. With time and support, you will be able to cope with your forgetfulness and confusion and people around you will hopefully help and support you when they can.