Column: See doctor if memory causes concern

THIS week’s column about dementia comes from Boston GP Simon Lowe.

I am writing this article on Monday. I had planned to do it on Sunday evening but things just did not work out.

Firstly, I could not remember where I put my laptop and spent 20 minutes trying to find it. Then when I sat down to write I simply could not remember what I wanted to say.

I put some milk on to boil for some hot chocolate while I was thinking things through but forgot about it and everything boiled over onto the cooker – so I had to clean that up. I gave up – I was so frustrated.

This made me realise just how difficult life can be for people with dementia and their carers. For them, every day can be like the uncomfortable hour I had on Sunday.

While there are many kinds of dementia, they all tend to come on slowly and although the sufferer may be aware there is something not quite right they will often try very hard to cover up their memory problems and not seek help.

Even when people around them notice their memory is failing they are often too worried about hurting a loved one’s feelings to mention it or just feel it is a normal part of getting old.

The fact is there is a lot that can be done to help people with dementia, both in terms of slowing down memory loss and helping both the sufferer and carers cope with the condition.

In some cases simple blood tests may find causes that make the memory appear worse than it is, such as vitamin deficiencies or an under-active thyroid gland – both of which are easily treated. Not infrequently we might find that the person is also depressed and treating this can lead to a real improvement in quality of life.

For some types of dementia medications are available that can slow down the process of memory loss.

Doctors can also make a difference by making sure conditions that can worsen dementia, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, are well under control.

Treating dementia is not just about tablets however. Diagnosing dementia at an early stage can allow doctors, nurses, carers and patients to all work together to plan for the care that sufferers may need in the future.

It is always better to have a plan as often the lives of people with dementia can change quite quickly and getting help in a hurry is not always easy.

There are also other things 
that may need to be thought about, such as making a will while the sufferer can still express their wishes or gaining power of attorney to look after their personal affairs.

Despite being very worried about the memory of their loved ones many people do not think about protecting their own memory in earlier life.

Factors such as untreated depression, diabetes, smoking and high blood pressure all increase the risk of dementia in later life. Equally, keeping mentally active through life can protect against dementia later.

We are all used to thinking about exercising regularly but how many of us think about having a workout for the old grey matter?

Your doctor can help you with all of these. By looking after ourselves now, we might help lower the risk of dementia in later life and reduce the worry to our children and grandchildren

Dementia is already a big issue for health services and the families and carers of dementia sufferers, but over the next few decades it is going to affect more and more of us in one way or another.

By thinking about dementia, encouraging people to come forward to ask for help and looking after ourselves a little better we can do a lot to offer a longer happier life to our loved ones.

When it comes to our long-term health let’s not forget our memory. Please see your doctor if you have concerns.