Mistaking dementia for menopause: Marie’s story

When primary school teacher Marie had trouble remembering words, she thought her memory loss was due to menopause. She didn’t think that at 51 she would be diagnosed with dementia. Now Marie and her family want to help raise awareness.

I’ve been with my amazing husband Neil for 35 years and we have three wonderful grown up children. I’ve been a schoolteacher for 27 years, currently teaching year one pupils and I’m also fluent in French and teach that too.

I contacted my GP at the end of last year as I was worried about my memory because I kept forgetting certain words.

Marie and Neil

Marie and her husband, Neil.

Initially I thought it was menopause or stress that might be the cause, I never even gave dementia a thought.

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Receiving the dementia diagnosis

I was referred to my local hospital for further examination, where an MRI scan showed signs of shrinkage on the left side of my brain. From there I was then referred to specialists in Oxford where more detailed assessments were carried out. 

It was here that I was given the official diagnosis of semantic dementia. I couldn’t believe what I was being told. I’d never heard of it, but it’s a rarer form of dementia that can lead to a loss of memory for words and their meanings. 

‘With no other family or friends living with dementia, the diagnosis was complete unfamiliar territory to me.'

Apart from forgetting the odd word for certain things I felt completely fine. I was hoping I’d just be given some medication that would help and everything would go back to normal.

But now I understand that I’m living with a progressive condition that currently has no cure.

Marie found out about Memory Walk

Marie wanted to raise awareness of dementia following her diagnosis.

Life during coronavirus 

The coronavirus lockdown allowed me and my family to process my diagnosis without dwelling too much. We spent more time together as a family and we’re beginning to put steps in place to help slow any progression.

‘I was told about various apps and tools I can use to help with speech and language, and I’ve been doing these four times a week.'

In the classroom, I’ll be showing the children pictures and suddenly I know the first letter of what it is, but the rest of the word just isn’t there. As soon as the children say it, I know if they are right or wrong. I’m still very capable of working and colleagues have been so supportive. I don’t want people to feel sad or sorry for me, I just want to carry on and adapt where I need a little extra support.

Marie and family

Marie and her family ready for Memory Walk.

Taking part in Memory Walk

During the lockdown, I read about Alzheimer’s Society’s Memory Walk campaign. We all decided it was the perfect opportunity to raise awareness and share the news about my diagnosis with wider family and friends. 

We created a JustGiving page and set a target to raise £400 and decided on a 20km route around Swindon, which would see us walking past places that mean something to us, such as our former homes and schools the children attended.

But word spread about our Memory Walk. We can’t believe how generous people have been. I think it’s because for many wider family and friends this was the first time they were hearing about my diagnosis.

It’s shocked a lot of people but people are talking about it more which we feel is so important. We knew nothing about dementia before and now we’re learning each day. 

Anything we can do as a family to spread further awareness, especially of research going on to find a cure, we will. It’s so important for us to keep positive and make plans where we can for the future.

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I am the admin for a Semantic Dementia group on Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/groups/semanticdementia. We have over 100 members from around the world. I noticed your comment about apps and tools to help with language and would love to have more information for the group. When my mum was alive we had a speech therapist come out but to be honest she had no understanding of mum's problems. Maybe it was just a bit too late for mum as she'd already lost a lot of vocabulary.

Very helpful Can Ou include me in membership please?