When forgetfulness sparks dementia concerns

Dr Troye advises Rob on his concerns about his wife.

Could forgetfulness be dementia?

Rob’s wife is getting forgetful – enough to cause him concern. He asks Dr Troye Wallett if he should talk to her about visiting a GP to discuss the issue or whether that could harm her self-confidence.


Q. Rob
I’m 76 and my wife seems to be getting more forgetful. What do you think I should do to find out if she has the start of some kind of dementia? I’m concerned that I may hurt her confidence and cause her to stress.

A. Investigating mild memory loss is considered screening for dementia. In medical circles, the discussion about screening for dementia splits the room. Five doctors would have six opinions on the matter. 

The argument for screening is that it empowers people to plan for their futures. The counter-argument is an early diagnosis of dementia leads to stress and anxiety for an illness that has few treatment options.

I sit in the ‘concern about creating unnecessary anxiety’ camp with an important caveat. A diagnosis of dementia allows for planning for the future. Ensuring that your advanced-care directive, guardianship, power of attorney documents and will are up to date is vital. I am no lawyer but can assure you that I have seen first hand how these documents make people’s lives easier. 

My caveat is it should not take a diagnosis of dementia to inspire you to action. Get your documents done today. Or this week if today is already jam-packed.

Your question, Rob, implies that your wife’s memory loss is significant. In this case, it is not about screening but rather about making a diagnosis.

There is no shortcut here and I would suggest bringing it to the attention your GP. She or he will be able to work with you, guide you through the diagnostic process and discuss future options. The steps taken will be to classify the cognitive decline, investigate a cause and make a diagnosis. Involving a geriatrician to help out with the diagnosis is very common.

Importantly, memory loss is not always dementia and many serious illnesses can present with cognitive decline. If there are symptoms in addition to memory loss, such as a sleepiness, a sudden change in condition or an event preceding the cognitive decline, then urgent medical workup is vital.

I send you strength and best wishes, as the road ahead is potentially hard. Please remember to look after yourself as you care for your wife. With some luck, this last piece of advice is mute and her memory loss turns out to be a hearing issue, solved with hearing aids.

Troye is happy to answer your questions. Simply send an email to: newsletters@yourlifechoices.com.au

Dr Troye Wallett is a GP. He is a co-founder and part-owner of GenWise, an ethics-based, purpose-driven mobile general practice which supports health professionals working in aged care.



    To make a comment, please register or login
    Nan Norma
    12th Jul 2018
    Hi Rob, There will come a time when you have no option but to bring the subject up with your wife. She will probably already be aware she has a problem. Your GP will then look to see if there is anything else that might be causing her forgetfulness -illness, medication, stress etc. If not then she will be referred to a geriatric specialist. Truth is, if it is dementia there is not a lot can be done. It can be very frustrating for the carer. Few people understand dementia. They will start to give you advise but you have to live it to know. Every person is different. Yes, do get P of Att. Do look after yourself. Take time out.
    Ted Wards
    12th Jul 2018
    Id be ruling out other possibilities first, for example depression, low Vitamin B12 and so on. Do a general check up with your doctor and ask to screen for issues that interfere with memory as there are many reasons why her memory could be affected. I hope its something simple. With my husband who initially was diagnosed with dementia, further testing revealed it was pernicious anaemia and a regular shot of B12 improved the problem and kept it in check. Don't always assume the worst case scenario, memory loss is only part of dementia, there's personality changes and all sorts involved.
    12th Jul 2018
    I agree with thw people who have replied.You also need to check if there are any relations on her side who have or may have had dementia. It can be inherited, Anyway forgetfulness can be part of growing older, Be good to yourself.
    13th Jul 2018
    Unless the law has changed in SA you change some legal documents (such as a will - and possibly others) once you have been diagnosed with Dementia.
    I strongly suggest they are brought up to date first.

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