Lots of people worry about whether they are getting dementia. We know from research that people often fear this more than other dreaded diseases such as cancer. Because memory problems are among the best-known symptoms of dementia, anyone who has a problem with their memory might think that this is a sign of dementia.
To be honest, most of us have memory problems from time to time. Have you ever gone upstairs in your house, only to ask yourself what you are there for? Do you see someone coming along the street and feel like going the other way because you can’t remember their name? It happens to all of us. Forgetting telephone numbers and addresses, or where you put something – these are all ordinary forgetting.
The worry of forgetting things
You are more likely to forget things if you are upset or unwell. People who have been bereaved or suffered another loss like a job loss, women going through the menopause, anyone who is working too hard and not getting enough sleep – all of these can have memory problems. As you get older you are more likely to worry about forgetting. Teenagers forget things all the time and we just get annoyed with them, knowing that their brains are full of other things.
When older people forget things, they are more likely to worry that their brain is failing. The key difference is how much worse your memory has become, and whether you are also having problems working things out. I might forget how to use the new TV remote, but I can make it work. That is fine. If I am staring at it and can’t work out what it is for, or try to make a phone call with it, that starts to look worrying. I may not be as fast at arithmetic as I was, but it is only worrying if I forget how to do simple calculations.
A brilliant mathematician who is having early symptoms may still be better than his doctor at mathematics, but he should worry if the gap between them is getting progressively smaller.
What to do if you are feeling really worried
See your doctor If you are really worried, you should see your doctor. You might have one of the reversible causes of memory loss and that can be fixed. If you have early symptoms of dementia, it is good to uncover that as soon as possible because medication and other lifestyle changes work best at the earliest stages.