Forgetting someone’s name or why you went upstairs, we’ve all done it – and most of the time small memory slips aren’t serious. Many people find that their memory becomes less reliable as they get older.
However, if your memory is getting noticeably worse, or affecting everyday life, you should speak to your doctor as it may be a sign of a medical condition.
Memory problems do not always mean dementia.
It can also be a sign of other conditions including depression, infections and vitamin deficiencies, which is another reason to get checked.
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, we have all had less social contact. You may have only recently noticed changes in your memory because you’ve not spent as much time with family, friends or neighbours. If you have concerns about changes in your memory, it’s important to speak with your doctor.
If you are diagnosed with dementia, we can help you find the support you need.
Early signs of dementia
Memory loss can sometimes be an early sign of dementia. This is especially true if you:
- struggle to remember recent events, although you can easily recall things from longer ago.
- find it hard to follow conversations or programmes on TV.
- forget the names of close friends or everyday objects.
- struggle to recall things you have heard, seen or read recently.
- regularly lose the thread of what you are saying.
- find yourself putting objects in unusual places – such as your keys in the fridge.
- feel confused, even in a familiar place, or get lost on familiar journeys.
- find that people start to notice or comment on your memory loss.
Is dementia inherited?
Dementia is not usually inherited. The exceptions tend to be rarer forms of dementia or cases where someone develops the condition very young – say in their 50s or earlier.
Having a parent, brother or sister with Alzheimer’s disease – the most common cause of dementia – may increase your own chances of developing the condition very slightly, but it does not mean dementia is inevitable for you.
Does dementia only affect older people?
The chances of developing dementia increase as we get older and it is uncommon to get dementia before 65 years of age.
About 1 in 20 people who develop dementia do so under the age of 65. This is sometimes referred to as ‘young-onset dementia’. Most of these people are aged between 35 and 64 years old, with more of these towards the older end of this age range.
What should I do next?
Speak to your doctor
If you’re worried about your memory the first thing you should do is speak to your doctor. It’s important to find out the reason for the problems as there may be treatment or support available to you that can help.
Your doctor will talk to you (and anyone with you) about your concerns and will be able to help with your questions.
You may be referred to a local memory clinic or hospital specialist where further assessments will take place so you can get a diagnosis.
We’ve all had that feeling when a word is ‘on the tip of your tongue’ or you’ve forgotten the name of a celebrity – most of the time small memory slips aren’t serious. Many people find that their memory becomes less reliable as they get older.
But if you’re worried about the memory of someone close to you, encourage them to speak to their doctor.
Memory problems do not always mean dementia.
They can also be a sign of other conditions including depression, infections and vitamin deficiencies, which is another reason to get them checked out.
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, we have all had less social contact. You or your family and friends may have only recently noticed changes in someone’s memory because you’ve not been able to spend as much time with them. These memory problems may have been going on for some time.
If someone close to you is diagnosed with dementia, we can help them find the support they need.
Talking to the person you are worried about
Whether it’s your parent, friend or next-door neighbour, it’s important to talk to them. You could start by asking if they’ve been feeling any different from usual or are struggling with anything.
Support them to make an appointment and ask if they’d like you to go with them, or to be there when they call. It’s important for them to speak to their doctor and find out the reason for the problems as there may be treatment or support available.
Before starting a conversation
Before having a conversation, it can help to think about the questions below.
- What could be stopping them from seeing a doctor about their memory problems?
- Have they noticed the symptoms? A person in the early stages of dementia may not always be aware of the problems they are having.
- Do they think their problems are just a natural part of ageing?
- Are they scared about what the changes could mean?
- Do they think there won’t be any point in seeking help?
- What approach has worked in the past to help persuade them to do something they were unsure about?
- Who could be the best person to approach the subject with them?
- Might they find it reassuring to have someone offer to go to or speak to the doctor with them?
Pick an appropriate time and place
It can be helpful to pick a place that is familiar and non-threatening, so you can talk about it comfortably.
It’s important to follow the government’s coronavirus guidance for your area, this may mean that you should meet outside or have a telephone or video call. It can also help to pick a time when you won’t be rushed.
You could also pick a time when the doctor's surgery is open so that if they feel ready to book a doctor's appointment, they can do this.
What if they are still reluctant to see a doctor?
If you don’t seem to be able to make progress in persuading them to see the doctor, you could mention your concerns to the doctor yourself.
You might be able to arrange a home visit with the doctor if a person is reluctant to go to the surgery. This can feel less formal but still allow the GP to have a chat with the person in a more relaxed environment.
Patient confidentiality means a doctor is not able to give out information about a patient, but they are able to receive information. It is up to the individual doctor whether they decide to take any action on information received.
We have joined forces with Santander UK and as part of our partnership they are helping us reach more people across the country who are worried about their own or someone else’s memory, so they can get the support they need.
We have been working with Santander to produce a guide to help people affected by dementia remain financially included and be financially independent for longer.