“I’ve been very worried about John,” said Tamara about her 64-year-old husband who has been forgetting names, sometimes even the names of their daughter-in-laws.
“He would always forget where he put things too. He’d spend all day looking for his reading glasses, house keys and even the TV remote goes missing,” said Tamara.
“Sometimes, John would bump into an old friend and he would hide behind a column because he would remember their faces but not their names. And let’s not forget the number of shopping bags he’d left at the grocers after having paid for them,” confesses Tamara.
All these events have led Tamara to ask the question “Is it forgetfulness or is dementia taking over?”
How can you distinguish everyday ‘normal’ forgetfulness from dementia? According to Professor John O’Brien, chair in old age psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, there are key differences between being just forgetful and having dementia. Here’s what you should keep a look out for…
Repeated forgetfulness – We all forget a colleague’s name or miss a meet-up with a friend from time to time. However, someone with early dementia might repeatedly forget names or plans, and the entire incident soon afterwards.
No memory recall – You may have had a memory blank over a certain word or what you did at the weekend, but it soon comes back to you, either spontaneously or after thinking it over. However, not being able to recall things at all that should be familiar isn’t normal forgetfulness.
A problem with reminders – Many of us use devices such as a diary or calendar to help jog memory – however, a person with dementia may have lost the ability do this. Similarly, while words, pictures or phrases can prompt us to remember things, the information may remain missing in dementia sufferers.
Lost ability to perform everyday tasks – When we’re stressed and juggling too many tasks at once our memory becomes compromised (ever put your dinner in the oven then forget to turn it on? Or gone into a room and forgotten why?). But dementia signs include reduced ability to remember how to do normal tasks, such as preparing a familiar dinner or having a shower.
Been acting out of character – Forgetting things can make you feel red-faced, frustrated and confused, but uncharacteristic anger, defensiveness and other negative changes in personality may indicate that your memory problem is not normal. People with dementia may become depressed or confused, or cling to a family member.
Also a change in attention to personal care, for example unchanged or soiled clothing, or not bathing and washing as regularly as usual, or weight loss due to forgetting to eat – or weight gain due to eating more, having forgotten you’ve already had a meal – is not normal forgetfulness.
Abnormal forgetfulness isn’t only about failing to remember. It’s a pattern of loss of brain function and losing the ability to do things or negative changes in behaviour and personality.