Monday, 11 March 2019 11:02

Whose Taken My Bloody Car Keys? Featured

So you can’t find your car keys again. You storm about the house flinging out the odd accusation that some one must have shifted them. There is a lot of eye rolling going on in those watching the performance.

After you calm down you suddenly remember, “Ah that’s right! I left them next to my bed when I came in late last night.” 

As you sheepishly pick them up from the bedside table, a thought comes to you. “Perhaps I’m getting dementia?”

But are you?


As we age there is a decline in memory. About 40% of people over the age of 65 will report memory problems so it can be considered a normal part of aging. This phenomenon is labelled age associated memory impairment.

Of these people who are aware of their declining memory only about 1% per year will progress to dementia over time. So just forgetting where you left your glasses or that you just walked into the kitchen and can’t remember why is not an indication of dementia.

However if you can’t remember where the keys go in the car or stand blankly in front of the microwave and can’t remember how it works, then you probably have a problem.

Dementia is usually diagnosed when people demonstrate a persistent and progressive memory loss, which typically affects the ability to perform routine tasks. In addition dementia affects more than just memory. There may be impairments in judgement, problem solving, calculation, orientation, language use and, sometimes, alterations in behaviour, personality and mood.

So, just a few minor but irritating lapses in memory does not mark you down as having early dementia. However if it is impacting upon your life or concerning you then it is worth having it assessed by your GP.

Memory can be impaired by mood disorders and stress. Those with anxiety and depression will often notice lapses in their memory. Sometimes excess alcohol or even prescribed medication can be at fault. Rarely poor memory can be a sign of thyroid disease or certain vitamin deficiencies. These can occur at any age and are either temporary or potentially curable if assessed correctly.

There is also a condition called mild cognitive impairment.  In this condition people will show objective signs of impaired memory that would not be expected in their age matched peers. These memory deficits are demonstrated by formal memory tests.

In those with mild cognitive impairment, about 15% per year will deteriorate to show dementia. However, and importantly, this is not inevitable as up to 20% will improve or even resolve over a 1-2 year period.

It is important to identify people with this condition for two reasons. Firstly, taking lifestyle action may reduce the risk of deterioration to dementia. This includes things like stopping smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, eating a diet high in vegetables and fruit in the Mediterranean style diet, getting lots of physical exercise, managing life stresses and encouraging mentally stimulating activities.

Secondly, once diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, the person and their family can consider planning for a future where their mental faculties may decline. This includes planning their financial and legal future and communicating their care preferences should they deteriorate to develop dementia. In addition their doctor can monitor their progress to help with decisions such as driving, medication prescribing and home services and safety.

So if you are genuinely concerned about your memory lapses or those in you family have noticed a significant decline then have it assessed by your doctor.

More in this category: « Looking Your Age? Warts »