Memory problems

Forgetting things, especially names of people and places, is a common experience for most of us as we grow older. Some memory loss is normal and nothing to worry about. However, there are times when memory loss can be a sign of a serious condition.

If memory loss and unusual behaviour comes on very quickly (in a matter of weeks or sooner) then there is cause for immediate concern – this can be because of infection, a side effect from prescribed medication or sign of a more serious physical problem. These should be treated without delay. Please see your GP as soon as possible.

If memory loss and changes in behaviour happen slowly (over months/ years) and have begun to affect daily life (are causing you or others concern), then it is possible they are a symptom of dementia.

See 10 warning signs of dementia for more information.

Dementia is a very common problem in older age. It is estimated that up to one in three people over 85 years of age has a form of dementia. Much more rarely, it can start in our 40s, 50s and 60s.

All symptoms can also be a result of other causes, such as depression, so it is essential to see your GP who will diagnose the problem as soon as possible. 

Sometimes, a person with memory problems will not want anyone else to be involved. This is partly to do with the dementia but also because many people are reluctant to seek help when they need it because they are too proud or don’t like to ‘make a fuss’. They may also be frightened and trying to avoid the problem.

There is no easy answer to this. Doctors can’t help someone unless they agree to seek help. However, there is no reason why someone else should not seek advice from the GP or from Social Care Services.

Social Care Services have a duty in law to look into the needs of someone who ‘may’ need help whether they want it or not. That doesn’t make the situation any easier but does mean that some support is available.

In extreme circumstances, if someone is putting themselves or others at risk of significant harm, then action that can be taken against their wishes. This is an absolute last resort where somebody is in danger.

As a carer of someone in need, whether or not their problem has been officially diagnosed, you can get help, information and support from your local Carers Service

Going to see your GP

When you go to see your GP, prepare beforehand. Make a list of the concerns you have and the questions you want to ask. We all know what it’s like to come away from the doctor’s thinking of the things we wish we’d said! If you do have questions or there were things you didn’t understand, don’t be afraid to go back.

The Alzheimer’s Society has good information on How a GP can support a person with dementia



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