Memory Loss

Everybody experiences momentary memory lapses occasionally and that’s perfectly natural. But when it interferes with everyday life then it becomes a problem to be investigated.

If you are concerned about apparent loss of memory or change of behaviour patterns in yourself or somebody else then it’s advisable to visit a doctor to have it checked out as soon as possible.

Below, we have listed some warning signs that indicate a condition is worthy of medical attention to investigate it further. If somebody else is exhibiting some of these patterns then do encourage them to see their doctor soon.

There are many conditions that may develop these symptoms, so it’s important to have them checked out:

  • Infections
  • Anxiety
  • Vitamin or thyroid deficiency
  • Depression
  • Mild Cognitive Impairment
  • Dementia

It’s normal to be worried or anxious about memory related concerns or changes in behaviour patterns. Bear in mind that lots of people get by and live well, despite these conditions, with support and treatment. However, it’s best to see a doctor so that the root cause can be identified and treated. Early diagnosis is always for the best.

Things that mean you should visit a doctor

It may help to print this list and add any other examples that you are aware of. Then you can take it with you when you visit your doctor to better explain your concerns. Or it may help if you want to discuss it with someone close to you.

Loss of memory

  • Difficulty recalling recent conversations or events
  • Forgetting planned arrangements or appointments
  • Frequently forgetting where you left things or slip-ups like leaving the door unlocked at night
  • Problems with remembering people’s names or names of ordinary things
  • Unknowingly repeating yourself
  • People passing comment about your forgetfulness

Mental performance

  • Struggling to plan and organise many activities
  • Finding numbers, money, buying things with cash increasingly complex
  • Straining and failing to follow TV programmes or conversations
  • Increasingly struggling with activities that require concentration – like cooking instructions or recipes

Getting confused

  • Frequently getting lost in familiar places or routes
  • Getting befuddled in your home like forgetting why you went into a room
  • Getting all muddled up in strange or new places
  • Making mistakes or wrong decisions in things like paying bills or banking

Changes in behaviour

  • Doing things that are out of character, such as being suddenly aggressive or behaving badly in public
  • Unusual or unexpected behaviour, such as putting things in the wrong/strange place or getting dressed over nightclothes
  • Changes in appetite or sleep patterns
  • Sudden lower standards of cleanliness, personal care, tidiness etc.

Personality changes

  • Noticeable changes, such as a normally calm and kind person becoming mean and snappy
  • Mood swings, such as becoming angry, anxious or depressed a lot
  • Becoming upset easily when out of the home or familiar and comfortable environment

Have your doctor check your memory

While you may be anxious about why your memory is a problem, it really is best to visit your doctor as soon as possible so that the cause can be diagnosed and to put your mind at rest.

Thyroid or vitamin deficiencies, infections and depression are just some of the things that can cause behaviour changes or memory loss. A condition called Mild Cognitive Impairment is believed to be present in about 20% of those aged 65 and over. It has similar early symptoms to dementia in that it can affect thinking, language, judgement and memory more so than might be expected by changes related only to age.

Mild Cognitive Impairment can progress to dementia later on in some cases. There are actions you can take to reduce that risk if it’s diagnosed early.

Regardless, it’s always best to talk with your doctor early so as to diagnose the reason. You will worry less once you know.

What's stopping you making a doctor’s appointment?

I am afraid that I will waste his/her time

Memory loss is a natural part of ageing and most of us suffer from it at one time or another. When it starts to interfere with daily life then it’s time to get it checked out. There may well be some treatable medical cause.

If it can’t be cured, why bother anyway?

Memory loss can be caused by a range of treatable medical conditions. It may not be dementia.

Even though there is no cure for dementia, there are treatments that can slow down its progress. There is a great deal of support available to you that may enable you to continue living an active and full life.

Even if you are diagnosed with dementia, that knowledge enables you to plan for the future now. Things like applying for benefits to which you may be entitled, planning your care for the years that follow, assigning a power of attorney and so on. That is best done now rather than later.

What will people think of me?

Being worried about what friends and family may think of you if you are diagnosed with dementia is a very common fear and why people delay going to the doctor.

Think instead about the benefits. Once you have been to the doctor and been diagnosed with dementia, you can talk about it with loved ones and then they can start finding out how to help. If they don’t know what’s wrong with you, they probably don’t know how to help and support you.

Dementia is now more in the public eye than it was even 10 years ago. There is a much greater understanding about the condition, which is a very good thing. The number of UK supporters who have joined Dementia Friends stands at over 1.4 million, which indicates the level of support amongst the general public.

I am really too scared to know for sure

You are not alone in being anxious – everybody is like that at the start. It’s important to realise that knowing and then doing something about it now is far, far better than ignoring it until it’s too late. Early diagnosis gives you a much better chance to avail of treatments that slow the condition. Vary many people are living very well with impaired memory caused by conditions like dementia.

Usually, knowing what is wrong is a relief for most people.

Visiting your doctor – what actually happens?

Your doctor will perform a memory check, free of charge, if you are worried about changes in your behaviour or by memory issues. That will rule out some problems.

The test may include things like:

  • asking you what medication you are currently taking
  • a physical examination
  • running through the medical history of both you and your family members
  • a blood test
  • a simple memory test that may take the form of a written test or just some questions
  • If other people have noticed changes in your behaviour or memory lapses, your doctor may wish to speak with them also.

Dementia is not easy to diagnose with certainty. You may be referred to a more detailed assessment by a local Memory Assessment Service where you may also be sent to have a scan done.

If you are eventually diagnosed with dementia, you will receive information from a consultant about the condition and what to expect – also what treatments may be available. There is a great deal of support available for dementia sufferers and also for their carers.

It’s not me – I am thinking about somebody else

There is no easy way to talk to somebody about your fears that they may be getting a memory condition or dementia. But the benefits to that person of an early diagnosis are really significant and worth the effort. People who get help in the early stages of the condition have a far better quality of life and live for longer. It’s really important that they see a doctor as soon as possible.

To help you plan this conversation, we have listed some helpful tips:

Time and place – Ensure you have plenty of time so that things are not rushed and then select a comfortable and familiar environment. That way you can take the time to make a plan with the person.

Think from their point of view – Do you think they are aware themselves of the symptoms that you observe? Think about why they may not want to see a doctor and then what you can say to encourage and reassure them.

Think of examples – It’s best to use examples to explain why you are concerned. Keep them simple and avoid any blame. Things like “I noticed you get muddled when you are at the supermarket checkout these days” or “I noticed you found it tricky to make that cup of tea just now”. Use our list of signs above to help you think of suitable examples.

You can support them – Offer your help and support in small but practical ways, like offering to accompany them to the doctor. Explain that there is a great deal of support out there including financial, medical and practical help.

Alzheimer's Society has more tips which might help when you find it difficult to have the conversation.

Also, consider speaking with their doctor who may invite the person for a general health check or arrange a home visit if that seems appropriate.

You can also speak with an advisor through Alzheimer's Society on their Freephone number 0300 222 1122. Sometimes it is appropriate to talk with a Dementia Advisor who will give you help and guidance about how to have a conversation with the person you care about.

Getting involved

As well as signing up to be a Dementia Friend, you could consider volunteering with organisations like Dementia UK or Alzheimer’s Society.