LGBT: Memory problems and reminiscence

Memory problems are a common early symptom in dementia. If you identify as LGBT, they can be more difficult to deal with.

This page will talk about how memory problems might affect you, and the things you may need to think about.

You may find memory problems more difficult to deal with as an LGBT person. This is because of decisions you have to make on a daily basis, or because of memories or changes from your past.

Below, we list some possible problems and how to deal with them.

These issues are sensitive and may be difficult or distressing for you to think about. Some of them are about problems you may have in the later stages of your condition and you may not want to think about them now.

They don’t affect everyone, and there are things you can do to make sure that any future decisions are based on your wishes. It is also important that you talk about anything that you’re worried about with people who can help. This could be a partner, friends or a professional, such as a counsellor.

  • If you are LGB or T, you may have to make decisions on a day-to-day basis about whether to disclose your sexual orientation or gender identity – whether to be ‘out’. As your dementia progresses, you may lose your ability to make this decision. You may also be unable to stop yourself disclosing your orientation or gender identity by mistake. For example, you may refer to a partner without meaning to. This could mean that you are ‘out’ without choosing to be. You should talk to those close to you about this, and what you would want to happen when the time comes. For example, talk about whether you would be happy to be ‘out’ to staff and other residents in a care home.
  • If you are trans, you may have complex bodily needs as a result of medical procedures or your body may not align with your gender identity. You may be undergoing longterm hormone therapy, for example. Dementia can make it harder to manage these problems. You may experience memory loss or problems with planning that can make it harder to remember to take medicines and tablets. It can help to find practical strategies to cope with these. For practical help with coping with memory loss, including strategies to help you remember things, see our page on Dealing with memory problems.
  • As your dementia progresses, older memories are likely to stay with you longer than newer memories. This means you might remember your childhood better than the past few years. Eventually, you may feel like you are back in an earlier time in your life. This can sometimes cause very distressing symptoms for LGBT people:
    • If you identify as LGB, you might go back to a time before you came out.
    • If you are trans, you may go back to a time before you transitioned. This can be problematic both practically and emotionally. It can be very distressing (for you and those supporting you), but it can also make day-to-day things like going to the toilet confusing and difficult.
    • If you have experienced prejudice, discrimination or harassment earlier in your life, these memories can become more pronounced, and this can cause you distress.
  • Some of the treatments for dementia aim to improve a person’s memory by getting them to talk about events from their past. These are known as ‘reminiscence’ therapies, and are often done in a group. This can be difficult if you have ever experienced prejudice, discrimination and rejection and you may want to think about whether this is something you want to do.