Memory like a goldfish? Here’s the test that’ll show if you really SHOULD worry
We fear dementia more than cancer or a heart attack. But how can you tell if you’re affected? With this unique quiz for you AND your loved one ...
Do you worry that your memory isn’t what it used to be? Forget what you went upstairs for or frequently fail to put a name to a face? A string of moments such as this can make many fear the worst — that it’s the beginning of the slow decline into the horror of dementia.
A survey last year by Saga found that most of us dread incurable brain diseases such as dementia more than cancer or a heart attack.
It’s this fear that drives many to seek help. Figures show dementia clinics, the majority of which rely on GP referrals, have recently been ‘ bombarded’ by middle-aged people who fear they have the condition because they sometimes struggle to find their house keys.
There was a four-fold rise in patients being seen at specialist centres between 2010 and 2013.
However, clinics say the vast majority of cases are patients who are simply absent-minded, perhaps due to stress at work. So when should you worry about your own memory lapses or those of a loved one?
IT’S IMPORTANT TO FORGET SOME DETAILS
‘THere’S a great deal of hysteria these days over memory ability,’ says Barry Gordon, a professor of neurology and cognitive science at Johns Hopkins university in the u.S. and a worldrenowned expert on memory.
‘We seem to have unrealistically high expectations for our memory. Most of us don’t complain about waning strength or appetite, but the first time we forget the name of an acquaintance, we assume we may have Alzheimer’s disease.
‘We never give ourselves credit for what we do remember, instead we fixate on what we forget!’
Most cases of absent-mindedness are normal — ‘it may just be a matter of simplifying your life so that you reduce the “information overload” in your brain’, says Professor Gordon.
‘If you have a busy life, you have more opportunities to forget — and more opportunities to blame your memory.’
FORGOTTEN YOUR KEYS? DON’T PANIC
reASSurInGly, some aspects of memory actually improve with age, says Sube Banerjee, professor of dementia at Brighton and Sussex Medical School.
So-called intelligent memory (a term coined by Professor Gordon and his team) — which covers such things as knowing how to ride a bike, vocabulary and social awareness, or knowing how to behave with people — does not weaken with age.
It may even get stronger in some respects in later years.
What’s crucial, says Professor Gordon, a neuroscientist and editor- in- chief of the journal Cognitive and Behavioural neurology, is to realise forgetting things now and again is normal — especially as we get older, as we have more to remember, and as the connections in our brains slow down.
The truth is that only a small portion of people develop significant memory problems due to brain disease.
Misplacing your keys once a week isn’t concerning — doing it every day is, says Professor Banerjee. ‘And forgetting where you’ve parked your car in a car park isn’t worrying [car park floors can look identical] — but it’s concerning if you don’t know which car park you used.’
WORRYING MEANS IT ISN’T DEMENTIA
In GenerAl, the more severe your worries about issues with your memory, the less likely you actually have a serious problem, says Professor Gordon.
‘The typical Alzheimer’s patient generally does not worry about his memory — their friends and family do.’ This is because damage to the brain frequently affects areas that impair your knowledge of your own abilities.
you can test the state of your memory with the unique checklist on the facing page created by Professor Gordon.
It is designed to highlight and help explain some of the warning signs of memory problems — and when you may need to see a doctor.
you MuST complete the checklist with someone who knows you well (for example, your spouse, a good friend or close relative), because how they rate your memory is crucial.
‘Provided you know him/her reasonably well, and have a chance to see them in everyday life, their rating is a fairly reliable guide to how good — or bad — it actually is,’ says Professor Gordon.
‘In general, I give far more weight to the impressions of memory loss from a spouse or close friend than from the person being rated.’
If your spouse’s or friend’s evaluation suggests you should see a doctor, then you must. For each question, both you and your spouse/friend should circle the most appropriate answer.
For some questions, there will be specific advice for each of you.
For others, the same findings/ advice will apply to both of you. Follow the specific advice where it’s given — the answers to other questions will help create a picture of the problem, if there is one.
(note, these checklists are not a substitute for a doctor’s opinion.)