Memory loss – should you be worried?

Memory loss
Memory loss


Memory loss, also called amnesia, happens when a person loses the ability to remember information and events they would normally be able to recall.

It could be something that happened seconds or minutes ago, or a memorable event that occurred in the past. The loss of memory may have started suddenly, or it may have been getting worse over the last year or so.

It’s normal to become a bit forgetful as you get older. However, memory loss could be a symptom of something more serious and should be checked by a GP.

Memory loss can be distressing for the person affected, and their family. Relatives may fear the worst and assume it’s caused by dementia, but this often isn’t the case.

The following information will tell you:

what to do if you’re worried about memory loss

how to tell if it could be caused by dementia

the most common causes of memory loss (but don’t rely on this to self-diagnose a condition)

how to cope with a poor memory

What to do if you’re worried about memory loss

See your GP if you’re worried because you or someone you care for has lost their memory. They’ll do an initial assessment and ask questions about symptoms, family history and lifestyle. They may also arrange a blood test.

Memory loss has a wide range of possible causes, depending on the type of memory loss.

Doctors classify memories as either:

immediate memories – such as sounds, which are only stored for a few seconds

short-term or recent memories – such as telephone numbers, which stay in your memory for 15 to 20 seconds; the brain can store about seven chunks of short-term information at any time

long-term or remote memories – more permanent memories, which have been reinforced because you’ve repeatedly gone over them in your mind

If your GP thinks you or your relative needs an assessment for dementia, or that there may be another more serious underlying condition, such as brain damage, they’ll refer you to a specialist.

Could memory loss be dementia?

If you’re reading this because you think your memory problems may be a sign of dementia, rest assured that they probably aren’t. A person with dementia won’t usually be aware of their memory loss, or may deny it.

Your memory loss is likely to be caused by something much more common and treatable, such as depression.

You may be worried that someone you care for has dementia. However, bear in mind around 40% of people over 65 have some type of memory problem, and only 15% will develop dementia each year.

If your instincts are correct, their denial or lack of awareness of their memory loss can make it difficult to convince them to see a GP. This fact sheet includes information about how to persuade your relative to see a doctor (PDF, 848kb).

Signs that someone has dementia

As a general guide:

Dementia usually occurs in people over the age of 65.

The memory loss doesn’t happen suddenly, but gets gradually worse over time.

Someone with dementia will struggle to remember immediate or recent events, but can still recall events that happened a long time ago. This means that if their long-term memory is affected, it probably isn’t dementia.

Read more about the symptoms of dementia.

Common causes of memory loss

GPs often find that people who see them about memory loss are most likely to have:




Their memory loss is a result of poor concentration and not noticing things in the first place because of a lack of interest. Sleeping problems often make the memory loss worse.

Your GP may suggest trying antidepressants. If you have depression or anxiety, your memory problems should get better as the depression or anxiety improves.

An elderly person with memory loss is likely to have depression if they also experience changes in behaviour, such as hoarding or being bad tempered.

Other common causes of memory loss are:

a head injury – for example, after a car accident

stroke – this cuts off some of the blood supply to the brain and causes brain tissue to die

These will cause sudden memory loss, where you either forget events that happened before the trauma (retrograde amnesia), or you forget everything that happened after the trauma (anterograde amnesia).

Less common causes of memory loss

Less commonly, memory loss can be caused by:

an underactive thyroid – where your thyroid gland (found in the neck) doesn’t produce enough hormones

certain types of medication, such as sedatives and some treatments for Parkinson’s disease

long-term alcohol misuse

bleeding in the brain (subarachnoid haemorrhage)

vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency – for example, as the result of a digestive problem

transient global amnesia – problems with blood flow to part of the brain, which causes sudden episodes of memory loss that a person can’t recall afterwards

psychogenic amnesia – a stressful or traumatic event that causes someone to block out the memory, leaving them unable to remember important information

a brain tumour

Click on the links above for more information about these conditions.

Tips for coping with a poor memory

Keep everyday items, such as car keys, in the same place and try to do things in the same order each time.

Write information down, and keep paper and a pencil near the phone.

Keep a diary at home as well as at work to remind you to do daily tasks.

Use an alarm to help you remember to do something in the future, such as taking something out of the oven.

Repeat important information you need to remember back to someone.

Dementia with Lewy Bodies. What are the signs and symptoms DLB and how can it be treated?

Dementia with Lewy Bodies
Dementia with Lewy Bodies

As many of you know this month is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. So, somewhat counter intuitively, I have decided to have a look at other form of dementia.    In this case I’d like to focus on a condition called Dementia with Lewy Bodies.

Dementia (and this form of dementia in particular) has been on my mind for the last few weeks.  There are a couple of reasons for this.  Firstly as I get older my family members age as well.  Secondly because the man after whom this medical condition is named (albeit some decades apart) went to the same medical school as my cousin.

So I wanted to look at Dementia with Lewy bodies a bit more closely.

As you know Alzheimer’s disease is not the only type of dementia.  In fact Dementia with Lewy bodies may be responsible for around 10% of dementia cases.  Though it should be noted that typically in only 4% of cases are actually diagnosed as Dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB) by healthcare professionals.  So there is more than a bit of uncertainty about a diagnosis.

Okay so let’s start from the beginning.  What exactly are Lewy bodies?

Lewy bodies are “tiny deposits of protein in nerve cells” – currently scientists are not clear as to why they appear.  Though, in fact, they are present in both DLB and Parkinson’s disease.  In fact DLB shares symptoms with both Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.  And also with some other progressive neurological conditions as well.  As of today scientists are still unclear as to how Lewy bodies operate.  Thought it does seems that the Lewy bodies interfere with chemical signals between nerve cells.

So what are the symptoms of Dementia with Lewy bodies?

As with Alzheimer’s disease people with DLB suffer from memory and judgement issues but they also have issues with concentration and visual perception.  By visual perception we mean how a person sees objects in space and general recognition of those objects.

As with Parkinson’s they may suffer from tremors, slowed-down movements and stiff limbs.

In some cases the patient may suffer from hallucinations.  Fatigue and disrupted sleep is also very common for person with Dementia with Lewy Bodies.  And in a few cases falling and fainting will occur.

Many patients suffer from swings in concentration.  This might mean a swift change from general alertness to simply just starring into space.

While Dementia with Lewy Bodies’ symptoms can be treated current there is no cure for the condition.  Therapies are generally used for particular symptoms so treatment regimens will vary for patient to patient.  For example Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors can be used for cognitive dysfunction, hallucinations and drowsiness.

As with other neurological conditions physiotherapy can be used alongside occupational therapy. And in many cases speech and language therapy as well.

Patients may also be exposed to other therapies. Cognitive stimulation which involves taking part in activities and exercises designed to improve memory, problem-solving skills and language ability. Reality orientation therapy reduces feelings of mental disorientation, memory loss and confusion, while improving self-esteem.

It should be mentioned that if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with any kind of dementia it is vital to get legal advice to make sure your or their affairs are in order.

If you have seen one of our discussion blog post at Patient Talk before you will know that the most important part is to start a discussion among our readers and those in the Dementia with Lewy bodies’ community.  So we were hoping some of you may be able to help with the following questions which will help to educate others about the condition.   We are keen to hear from friends, family and caregivers as well as people with Dementia with Lewy bodies.

So here goes:-

What were the earliest signs and symptoms of Dementia with Lewy bodies?

How did Dementia with Lewy bodies’ progress?

What treatments were offered to you or a loved one? How effective were those treatments for Dementia with Lewy bodies?

What advice would you give to a person

And their families who has just been diagnosed with Dementia with Lewy bodies?

Thanks very much in advance.  Please note that these are just guide lines.  Anything you have to say will be of massive interest to our readers.

Finally if you want or need more information why not have a look the web site of the Dementia with Lewy bodies Society in the UK and its fraternal organisation in America, Canada and Australia.

Signs of Dementia & Moving into a Nursing Home

People with dementia
People with dementia

For millions of older Americans, moving into a nursing home is a common step as many start to require more assistance and specialized care. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 1.4 million residents live in a nursing home facility and are likely to make it their permanent residence for the rest of their lives. Older individuals move to nursing homes for a number of reasons from a short visit after a surgery to a permanent stay after suffering from a memory loss issue like Alzheimer’s.

Today, there are a great number of nursing home facilities that are specialized in memory care or have a specific wing or unit for elders with dementia. If you are a caregiver or relative to an elderly loved one, here are some signs of dementia and some steps to consider when moving him or her into a nursing home facility:

What is Dementia?

Many people think that dementia is a specific disease affecting the brain, but instead, it is a term that describes the wide range of symptoms associated with memory loss and other cognitive skills severe enough to interfere with an individual’s ability to perform simple, daily tasks. There are two common types of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Alzheimer’s accounts for about 80% of dementia cases, while vascular dementia occurs after a stroke. Alzheimer’s disease occurs when there are high levels of a certain protein inside and outside of brain cells, making it hard for the cells to stay healthy and communicate properly and the hippocampus (the learning and memory center of the brain) becomes damaged, leading to memory loss.

Many people assume that dementia is a natural part of aging and is often mistakenly called “senility”, but dementia occurs when brain cells have been damaged due to depression, medication side effects, alcohol abuse, thyroid issues, and even vitamin deficiencies. While damage is often permanent, some damage can be stopped or prevented from getting worse when certain condition (listed above) are treated.

The Warning Signs of Dementia

Although dementia can affect each individual differently, depending on the type of dementia one has, there are common warning signs that can alert a caregiver or a relative that an elderly individual may have dementia. Some signs may include, but are not limited to:

Memory Loss: Forgetting newly learned information, asking for the same information repeatedly, forgetting important dates or information.

Struggle with Planning or Solving: An individual may be showing a early sign of dementia if he or she struggles with tasks that used to be easy such as simple math problems, keeping track of bills and important paperwork, and following a familiar recipe.

Unaware of Time or Place: Everyone may lose track of time every now and again, but when someone doesn’t know how he or she got to where he or she is or is confused about a time or place, he or she may have dementia.

Change in Mood or Personality: Damage to brain cells can make someone seem like he is someone else. He or she may not enjoy things like he or she used to or doesn’t trust or feel comfortable around friends and family.

Time to Move

When someone starts to show signs of dementia, many caregivers and loved ones try to “cover up” any evidence. Unfortunately, over time, particularly as the symptoms get worse, it becomes harder to help out and manage the symptoms like memory loss, changes in moods, and struggling to do daily tasks. As symptoms worsen, the health and overall safety of the individual with dementia is at risk.

According to Salvi, Schostok, & Pritchard, PC, early planning and research can make for an easier transition when it’s time to move a loved one into a nursing home. Before an incident occurs, such as getting lost or causing harm to oneself, caregivers and loved ones should begin to plan a move into a nursing home facility where the individual can receive the specialized and safe care that he or she needs.

World Alzheimer’s Month 2014 – Dementia: Can we reduce the risk?

World Alzheimer’s Month 2014 - Dementia: Can we reduce the risk?
World Alzheimer’s Month 2014 – Dementia: Can we reduce the risk?

Today sees the start of World Alzheimer’s Month 2014. This years theme is “Dementia: Can we reduce the risk?”

Please feel free to use the picture above as you Facebook cover for the month.

Alzheimer’s Disease International  have produced two very useful pieces of information which we have shared below.

The first looks at the social impact of dementia while the second introduces us to the early signs and symptoms of dementia.  Please so feel free to share far and wide!

The Global Impact of Dementia

What is dementia?

Dementia is a progressive, degenerative brain syndrome that affects memory, thinking, behaviour and emotion. Dementia knows no social, economic, ethnic or geographical boundaries and affects people throughout the world. As dementia progresses individuals affected need care with all aspects of daily life, worldwide families mostly provide this care.

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia and accounts for 50-60% of all cases and is caused by abnormal brain tissue changes.

Who does it affect?

International studies make it clear that dementia occurs in every country of the world. Dementia affects 1 in 20 people over the age of 65 and 1 in 5 over the age of 80. Worldwide there are an estimated 44 million people with dementia. By 2050 the number will rise to 135 million.

Where do people with dementia live?

For at least the last 15 years, the majority of people with dementia worldwide have been living in developing regions of the world. They account already for over 62% of all cases; by 2050 this proportion will have risen to 71%.

Care arrangements

Research has shown that most people with dementia live in their own homes and are cared for by a female caregiver usually a spouse or daughter and that caring is associated with substantial psychological and financial strain (Int J Geriatric Psychiatry 2004 19 170-177). In contrast to developed countries, more than a quarter of people with dementia in developing countries live in a multigenerational household with their children and grandchildren.

Cost of care

Caregivers have to cut back on paid work or stop work altogether, informal care is often supplemented by formal paid care and people with dementia are relatively heavy consumers of health services. The total estimated worldwide costs of dementia are US$604 billion in 2010, according to ADI’s World Alzheimer Report

What is needed?

1. Recognition of the early symptoms of dementia

Dementia is surrounded by stigma and myth. Many people see the early symptoms of dementia as a normal consequence of ageing and therefore do not come forward for the help and support that is available. Recognising the symptoms of dementia is the first step towards receiving a diagnosis. A diagnosis can help to reduce the anxiety of people with dementia and their family, allow a greater chance to benefit from existing treatments, access resources and information and provide more time to plan for the future.

Ten early symptoms of dementia:

  1. Memory loss
  2. Difficulty in performing everyday tasks
  3. Problems with language
  4. Disorientation to time and place
  5. Poor or decreased judgment
  6. Problems with keeping track of things
  7. Misplacing things
  8. Changes in mood or behaviour
  9. Changes in personality
  10. Loss of initiative

2. Cost effective interventions

These are needed worldwide to provide support for people with dementia and their families to maintain and improve quality of life. Research has shown that there are ways to reduce the stresses of caring:

  • Information and education empowers people to understand what is happening to them and their loved one and how to cope better.
  • Support groups provide an opportunity to share experiences and feelings.
  • Professional counselling has been shown to be effective in improving morale and decreasing feelings of stress.
  • A break from caring is essential, respite can be achieved informally by arranging for the person with dementia to stay with relatives or friends or formally through services such as day care and short stays in residential units.
  • Practical help in the home, financial support and a key person to turn to are also useful.”