Is my forgetfulness normal?

We all forget things from time to time. For example, how many of us have walked into a room only to forget why we went there in the first place? Or forgotten the name of a new acquaintance only moments after they’ve introduced themselves? These are common experiences, but if these memory lapses turn persistent or progressive it could be a sign of something else.

“A person with forgetfulness may lose their car keys, but a person with dementia may lose their car keys and then forget what the car keys are actually used for,” explains Alzheimer’s Australia CEO, Carol Bennett. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and affects 80 per cent of people with dementia. While memory loss is the most common symptom of dementia, other symptoms may include confusion, personality change, apathy and withdrawal or an inability to perform everyday tasks.

According to Bennett, dementia will present itself in many different ways and symptoms may vary between individuals. “For some people it won’t be memory loss, rather they may experience visual-spatial differences. For example, someone with dementia may put their glass down under the table or above the table and drop the glass. They may misjudge stairs, because they lose their capacity to judge physical space,” she said.

Early signs of alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s Australia advise some warning signs include:

1. Remembering events, words, names or objects: A person with dementia may progressively forget common words or names and may even forget part or all of an event. In healthy people, there may be the occasional lapse but words are usually on the tip of the tongue and memories are vague, rather than completely forgotten.

2. Understanding stories: Dementia causes a decline in the ability to follow story lines in TV shows, films, books or any other storytelling form of entertainment.

3. Performing everyday tasks: In someone with dementia, everyday tasks like dressing and cooking can become quite arduous, whereas a healthy person will not have any difficulty unless physically impaired.

4. Following directions: Healthy people should be able to follow written and verbal directions without any difficulty. Someone with dementia, on the other hand, is increasingly unable to follow these cues.

Read the full checklist on the Alzheimer’s Australia website.

Younger onset dementia
While dementia is more common in people over 65, sadly there are more than 24,000 Australians in their 30s, 40s, 50s and early 60s affected by the disease.

“Dementia in the under 65s is often misdiagnosed. There’s a lack of information, even among health professionals,” adds Bennett. One theory is that people with younger onset dementia tend to present with problem solving and behavioural issues, and as a result, these individuals can be mistakenly diagnosed with depression.

There are different types of dementia and symptoms are variable. However, if you or a loved one is worried, see a GP or ask for a referral to a neurologist who can complete a series of medical and psychological tests to determine the cause. Your doctor may talk to you about your medical history, perform cognitive, psychiatric and/or neuropsychological testing, or request blood and urine tests to screen for illnesses which could be responsible for dementia-like symptoms.

Bennett explains, when it comes to younger onset dementia, early intervention is key. “Early diagnosis makes a huge difference to the outcome. Unfortunately it is a very progressive condition, especially in younger onset where it tends to progressive more quickly. The sooner you can provide support the better. Early intervention keeps people out of hospital and residential aged care,” she adds.

Preventing dementia: help at hand
“There isn’t a one size fits all, it’s about keeping your mind active,” advises Bennett. In fact, experts say that the changes in the brain that lead to dementia begin up to 15-20 years before symptoms first appear. Lifestyle changes, such as keeping physically active, eating the right foods and challenging the mind, all reduce the risk.

Click here for six fun and simple ways to reduce your risk for dementia and keep your mind sharper for longer. 

Alzheimer’s Australia has also developed a Brainy App, which can help determine your ‘brain health’ and assist you with completing brainy activities using a score system. Download the free app here.

Ready for something new? Take the Your Brain Matters 21 challenge! Always dreamt of speaking Spanish, learning the violin or finally mastering a soufflé? Keeping your mind active by doing new things is a fun way to establish brain healthy habits visit: Your brain matters.

You can also call the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500 for support and advice regarding health, financial and counselling services in your area.

Have you ever been concerned about memory lapses? Do you know anyone who has suffered from Dementia or Alzheimer’s? Join our conversation below...