Keep forgetting where you put your glasses or your keys? Or perhaps you've noticed your elderly mum has trouble remembering names and dates? As you get older, it's natural to worry that memory loss is a sign of dementia. But the fact is, it's normal to lose your memory to some degree - your brain ages just like the rest of your body, and forgetting things or losing your concentration from time to time is just like getting wrinkles and grey hair. Around 40 per cent of people over 65 have some memory loss to an extent. But, reassuringly, only 15 per cent develop dementia each year.
You probably don't need to worry if…
- You're under 65 - dementia usually affects people over this age.
- You're struggling to recall things that happened a long time ago but have no problem with recent events. It's short-term memory that's normally affected by dementia.
- You're aware you're having memory lapses - usually, people with dementia are unaware of memory loss or are in denial about it.
If you're concerned about your memory or an elderly parent's, the following are signs that may possibly point to dementia, according to the Alzheimer's Society:
- You've become significantly more forgetful and it's affecting your daily life
- You have difficulty remembering things that happened recently - but have no problem recalling events from the past
- You forget the names of friends or everyday objects
- You find it hard to follow conversations or programmes on TV
- You often lose the thread of what you're saying
- You leave things in unusual places - for example, you put your toothbrush in the fridge or your front door keys in a bathroom cabinet
- You have problems thinking and reasoning
- You feel anxious, depressed or angry
- You get confused in a familiar environment or lose your way on a journey you often make
- Other people are commenting on your forgetfulness
Try not to panic if you've noticed any of these symptoms. Many of us get forgetful or find it hard to focus when we're stressed, anxious or depressed, and certain medications can make your brain foggy. Memory lapses can also be a symptom of menopause. But either way, it's a good idea to see your GP, who can work out what's causing memory problems and arrange for further investigations, if necessary.
Worried about someone else's memory?
If you're concerned about an elderly relative, it may not be easy to get them to the doctor as they may not accept there's a problem. Research carried out among carers suggests using a GP appointment about a different issue to bring up the memory problems. For example, if they have to go regularly for a medicine review, you could go along with them and broach your concerns with the GP. Be prepared for your relative to dismiss your worries in the appointment. You could try stating your concerns clearly and asking directly for a referral. It can take a long time to get a diagnosis of dementia, if that's the problem, so you may need to go back several times with your loved one to speak to the GP.
For more advice, call the National Dementia Helpline on 0300 222 11 22, or, if you're in Scotland, Alzheimer Scotland: 0808 808 3000
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