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Worried about dementia

Worried about dementia
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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.

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Last reviewed: October 2020

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