Memory loss

Memory loss was a very common experience amongst people we spoke to across the age spectrum. Memory problems that were frequently cited include losing words, particularly when under pressure or stress; forgetting names and telephone numbers; putting things away in the wrong places; forgetting why you came into a room or what you went to the shop for. This type of mild memory loss was largely seen as a normal part of the ageing process.

Memory loss was a very common experience amongst people we spoke to across the age spectrum. Memory problems that were frequently cited include losing words, particularly when under pressure or stress; forgetting names and telephone numbers; putting things away in the wrong places; forgetting why you came into a room or what you went to the shop for. This type of mild memory loss was largely seen as a normal part of the ageing process.

Janet finds she is more likely to lose words when talking to a group or writing documents.

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Nora lee has experienced forgetful moments as a ‘brain freeze’, particularly when she is under pressure.

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During the interview Lan cannot find the word she is looking for.

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People also spoke about the increased effort it takes to learn new things and absorb information, such as what the doctor said during a consultation. People noticed this more when undertaking complex tasks. Both Helen W and Elaine H thought ‘forgetting’ might have something to do with the brain receiving too much information. An important way of coping with mild memory loss was to not worry too much about it.

Things do not stick in Helen W’s memory as easily as they used to. She is not worried about dementia, it is more like the brain being ‘overloaded’ at times.

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Elaine H is experiencing more memory loss but this has not stopped her daily routines.

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Some degree of memory loss was perceived as a normal part of ageing. It was most likely to be experienced as an ‘annoyance’, but something you can cope with. Nora lee (shown above) was the only participant to describe a forgetful moment as scary.

Chris finds it annoying when he cannot remember little things. Talking about it with his peers makes him realise it happens to everyone.

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People distinguished between what they described as ‘normal’ lapses of memory and warning signs of dementia. Those who have had a parent or relative with dementia described their fears about having the same condition. Several participants described the decline of their fathers who had dementia. They were more likely to look for signs of memory loss and attribute it to inheriting their father’s genes.

Marjorie is alert to signs of her own memory loss because her father had vascular dementia in his 70s.

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Merrilyn describes what it is like caring for her husband who has dementia and the decision to put him into care.

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Participants who were living with more severe forms of memory loss put strategies in place to help them remember more complex information. For example, it was important for people to bring their partner or one of their children along to doctors’ consultations and to write notes or have the doctor send notes home. Gil describes the confusion he experienced over a diagnosis of dementia, which illustrates the communication breakdowns that can happen even when good strategies are put in place.

Gil mistook his diagnosis of dementia, even though he brought his partner along and took notes during the consultation.

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Many people, whether or not they had a history of dementia in their family, spoke about the importance of keeping their mind active as they grow older and the need to ‘use it or lose it’. Some people are learning a new language, others do puzzles such as cryptic crosswords, Sudoku or play chess. Everyday tasks become important for keeping their mind engaged, such as continuing to read, write, use the computer, going for a walk and interacting with children.

After Lyn had a stroke she and Robin started doing cryptic crosswords. Lyn also takes the herbal supplement turmeric to prevent Alzheimer’s and Robin uses the computer to keep his mind active.

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Michael is blind and relies on his memory to recite verses from the Bible.

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Colleen finds spending time with her grandchildren, as well continuing to work, keeps her mind active.

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Marlene believes that exercise and a positive attitude are important for maintaining overall mental health.

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Very few cases of dementia are inherited. Having a family history increases the risk, but older age is the biggest risk factor for dementia. See Dementia Australia for more information.

There is no evidence as yet that turmeric or any other supplements or natural therapies are effective for preventing dementia, but research is continuing.