When to worry about memory loss

When to worry about memory loss

We’ve all wandered into a room and completely and utterly forgotten why we went in there in the first place. Every one of us has had a mind blank and suddenly lost a word we wanted, and had to replace it with ‘wotsit’ or ‘thingamebob’.

For most people, the odd mind blank is pretty normal. And even longer-term memory loss or brain fog problems can be a sign of a million and one things – from stress to vitamin deficiencies, insomnia, menopause and allergies.

But sometimes memory loss can also be a sign of something more serious, like dementia.

An estimated 900,000 people in the UK are living with dementia, with someone diagnosed every three minutes. It’s actually a group of symptoms caused by several different diseases that damage the brain, with the most common being Alzheimer’s disease.

Dementia is more common in people over 65, but can affect people younger than this – known as young-onset dementia. The sooner the type of dementia is diagnosed, the better it can be managed, with new medicines and treatments being developed all the time.

But how do you know when the odd moment of memory loss is something to start worrying about?

Here are some of the signs and symptoms to look out for in those around you.

1. Memory loss

Memory is actually made up of three stages. It involves encoding new information you come across, storing information, and then being able to retrieve it at will. You can have memory issues at each stage, and if it starts to disrupt everyday life it’s worth having a conversation with your GP. Common symptoms to look out for include:

  • Difficulty learning new information
  • Forgetting recent events or the names of people recently met
  • Missing appointments
  • Repeating the same questions over and over again
  • Putting things in unusual places, like house keys or glasses, and being unable to retrace steps to find them.

2. Difficulty with daily tasks

Some people living with dementia will have problems completing familiar, everyday tasks – particularly if they involve developing and following plans, or working with numbers.

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Leaving tasks like cooking or making tea halfway through
  • Forgetting how to drive to a familiar location when in the car
  • Forgetting how the TV buttons or oven works
  • Trouble organising a shopping list
  • Struggling to follow a familiar recipe
  • Not keeping track of spending/money
  • Making mistakes with change.

3. Problems with speaking or writing

Dementia can cause people to develop new problems with speaking or writing – that go beyond not being able to find the right word every now and again.

  • Stopping in the middle of a conversation
  • Repeating themselves
  • Half-finished sentences when writing
  • Worsening/illegible handwriting
  • Regularly forgetting the words for familiar objects
  • Using descriptions rather than words – like ‘hand clock’ instead of watch.

4. Confusion about times and places

People can get very confused about times and places, even forgetting how they got somewhere.

  • Mixing up days of the week
  • Losing track of time
  • Missing meals or forgetting to get washed and dressed
  • Forgetting which season it is and dressing inappropriately
  • Not understanding something if it’s not happening immediately
  • Difficulty sleeping or keeping a normal sleep schedule
  • Getting lost in familiar places.

5. Trouble with spatial awareness and visual images

For some people, dementia can mean visual changes, for instance in how they perceive distance and even colour.

  • Problems judging distances – possibly resulting in more spills or trips
  • Difficulty with balance
  • Trouble reading a book
  • Problems with determining the colour of something, or contrast with other objects
  • Mistaking reflections or patterns for other things
  • Difficulty with driving, parking, possibly even getting into accidents.

6. Poor judgement/decision making

Dementia can lead people to make judgements or decisions that seem out of character.

  • Making risky decisions
  • Struggling to decide anything – even small things like what to have for tea
  • Buying expensive gadgets
  • Falling for scams
  • Paying less attention to personal grooming/appearance
  • Acting inappropriately or saying inappropriate things.

7. Changes in mood and personality

When someone has dementia, you might notice a change in their mood or personality.

  • Withdrawing from work or social activities
  • Giving up a hobby they can no longer follow
  • Loss of patience/concentration with people they used to enjoy spending time with (eg grandchildren)
  • Becoming easily upset, and even aggressive
  • Accusing people of stealing when they can’t find a misplaced item
  • Depression – feeling sad and hopeless
  • Anxiety – having lots of worries and feeling fearful
  • Restlessness – not being able to settle to anything, and even walking about randomly.

If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s worth having a conversation with your GP – or with the person you’re worried about and THEIR GP. Catching dementia early is absolutely key, and while it could be nothing, it’s always better to know and start getting plans in place to help.

Remember, if you’re worried about someone, you can use your Equipsme plan. One particularly useful resource is our 24/7 nurse advice line. The staff at the brilliant AXA Health at Hand service can help you think through your concerns, make a plan of how to tackle them, and talk about the treatment and management options that might be available.

Find out more about the nurse advice line.


Further reading

Alzheimer’s Association

Alzheimer’s Society

NHS - Dementia