Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

Worried about your memory or dementia?

5-minute read

If you or someone you care about is getting forgetful or confused, you might be worried it’s dementia. Everyone forgets things from time to time, but the memory loss associated with dementia is different. It becomes worse over time, and can eventually lead to forgetting how to do everyday things like getting dressed or having a shower.

What are the symptoms of dementia?

The early signs of dementia can be very vague and they vary from person to person. They can include:

  • being vague in everyday conversations
  • losing enthusiasm for things you usually enjoy
  • taking longer to do routine things
  • forgetting people or places you used to know
  • difficulties finding words and thinking
  • changes in personality or behaviour
  • finding it hard to follow instructions
  • becoming more unpredictable emotionally

The symptoms may not be caused by dementia, but if they are, an earlier diagnosis will be helpful since it will allow the person with dementia to get access to medicine, support and information.

There is a simple Worried About Your Memory Checklist (PDF) that may be helpful. It’s not designed to diagnose dementia, but is a useful guide for discussions with a doctor about a person’s memory.

Mild cognitive impairment

Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) occurs when a person’s memory loss is more than you would expect for someone of the same age, but without other signs of dementia like the loss of reasoning or judgement. Some people who have MCI go to on develop dementia, but others do not. People with MCI are 3 to 5 times more likely to develop dementia, but many people with MCI remain stable or even improve.

Talk to your doctor about dementia — expert advice

Significant changes in memory are not normal at any age and should be investigated by a doctor as soon as possible.

It's important not to assume a person has dementia. Many other conditions can cause the symptoms of dementia, so the first step is to talk to your doctor.

A medical diagnosis is important because there could be other reasons for these changes, such as:

Watch the video below and learn how you can start a conversation with someone who may be showing signs of dementia about the need to see a doctor.


Read the related video transcript

What causes dementia?

We don't yet fully understand how genes influence our chance of getting dementia. Usually people get dementia randomly and it's not inherited from their parents. If you have a close relative with dementia, your risk of your getting it is only slightly higher than it is for other people.

There isn't a single gene that is responsible for most types of dementia. However, some rare types of dementia can be inherited. These include:

If a parent has the type of gene or genes that causes these rare types of dementia, then their children will have a higher chance of inheriting the condition and developing that type of dementia, often in their middle age.

Genetic testing

Deciding whether to have a genetic test or not is difficult. You might naturally want to know if you will develop dementia in future, but there are downsides to knowing too. It also depends on the nature of the genetic transmission of the condition. It is essential to have specialised genetic counselling before deciding to have a genetic test. You can discuss genetic counselling with your doctor or call the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500 to arrange an appointment with a counsellor.

Dementia and shared decision-making — expert advice

When a diagnosis of dementia is made, it is important to start thinking about the future. Next steps for the person with dementia need to be discussed with a doctor and close family members. This video provides some important points for the future to consider.


Read the related video transcript

Talking about dementia

A diagnosis of dementia can be very stressful for the person diagnosed, and for their family and carers. Telling a person they have dementia is difficult, and must be handled in a sensitive, calm and dignified way.

The person with dementia has the right to know about their diagnosis, especially if they are diagnosed at an early stage of the disease. However, they also have a right not to know their diagnosis if that is their clear preference.

If you are a carer, friend or family member, you may need to explain:

  • why they are getting their symptoms
  • what type of dementia they have
  • possible treatments for their symptoms
  • what services are available to give them help and support

Sometimes the person with dementia may not understand all it means to have the condition. This is where a family member or carer may need to make some judgements about what the person would want. For example, they may have indicated in the past what they would prefer should this type of situation arise.

Some doctors will always tell their patient about their diagnosis, so it is important to discuss the issue before the doctor visits. It might help to talk with family and friends, and the person’s doctor, beforehand.

Visit the Dementia Australia website to find out more, or call the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500 for information and support.

Reducing your risk of dementia

Heart disease and diabetes can increase your risk of developing dementia. Looking after your health by not smoking, eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and being a healthy weight will all help.

You can also reduce the risk of developing dementia by looking after your brain health.

Visit the Dementia Australia website to find out about other risk factors for dementia, including tips on how to reduce them.

Resources and support

Visit the Dementia Australia website to find out more, or call the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500 for information and support.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2020


Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Diagnosing dementia | Dementia Australia

Information about the early signs of dementia, the importance of early and correct diagnosis and the ways in which it is diagnosed. What are the early signs of dementia? The early signs of dementia are very subtle and vague and may not be immediately obvious. Early symptoms also vary a great deal. Usually though, people first seem to notice that there is a problem with memory, particularly in remembering recent events. Other common symptoms include: Confusion Personality change

Read more on Dementia Australia website

Types of dementia | Dementia Australia

Dementia is the umbrella term for a number of neurological conditions, of which the major symptom includes a global decline in brain function. It is a condition that has been noted in people for hundreds of years. Dementia was a relatively rare occurrence before the 20th century as fewer people lived to old age in pre-industrial society. It was not until the mid 1970s that dementia begun to be described as we know it today. We now know dementia is a disease symptom, and not a normal part of ageing.

Read more on Dementia Australia website

Dementia (Non-Alzheimer type) - Brain Foundation

Dementia (Non-Alzheimer type) (See also Alzheimers Disease) Description The term dementia is used to describe the pattern of deteriorating intellectual function particularly (although not exclusively) in the elderly that can occur as a result of various neurological disorders

Read more on Brain Foundation website

Dementia: behavioural and psychological symptoms - MyDr.com.au

Along with loss of memory and intellectual function, dementia can cause symptoms such as changes in behaviour and mood.

Read more on myDr website

About dementia | Dementia Australia

Information The information in this section defines dementia, describes the symptoms and causes of dementia and explains the difference between normal memory problems and dementia. What is dementia? What is younger onset dementia? Types of dementia

Read more on Dementia Australia website

Warning signs of dementia | Dementia Australia

The early signs of dementia are very subtle and may not be immediately obvious. Early symptoms also vary a great deal. Usually though, people first seem to notice that there is a problem with memory, particularly in remembering recent events. Memory loss that affects day-to-day function It's normal to occasionally forget appointments or a friend's phone number and remember them later. A person with dementia may forget things more often and not remember them at all. Difficulty performing familiar tasks

Read more on Dementia Australia website

Dementia - different types - Better Health Channel

betterhealth.vic.gov.au

Read more on Better Health Channel website

How can I find out more? | Dementia Australia

What are some of the things to look out for, what are some of the tests used for diagnosing dementia and how do you go about telling someone they have dementia.  Warning signs of dementia The early signs of dementia are very subtle and may not be immediately obvious. Early symptoms also vary a great deal. Usually though, people first seem to notice that there is a problem with memory, particularly in remembering recent events.

Read more on Dementia Australia website

Vascular dementia | Dementia Australia

Vascular dementia is the second most common cause of dementia after Alzheimer's disease. What is vascular dementia? Vascular dementia is the broad term for dementia associated with problems of circulation of blood to the brain. Are there different types of vascular dementia? There are a number of different types of Vascular dementia. Two of the most common are Multi-infarct dementia and Binswanger's disease.

Read more on Dementia Australia website

Introduction to Dementia | Dementia Australia

This session provides an introduction to dementia, including an overview of different types of dementia, diagnosis, planning ahead and how to support someone living with dementia. This session provides more detail about causes of dementia and obtaining a diagnosis.

Read more on Dementia Australia website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo