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Multiple causes for memory lapses

A reader worries about her husband’s bouts of forgetfulness.

QUESTION:

My husband is extremely forgetful. This is not a recent problem, but it is getting worse.

We are in our early 70s, married for many years with two daughters interstate. I work part-time. He retired more than 15 years ago. For at least five years he has had trouble remembering where he left something, or very recent things said to him, or what he is shopping for, or whether a door was open or closed when he walked through it.

It is now progressing to forgetting events, such as a conversation, or whether a bill has been paid, or what we did on a holiday somewhere.

He also has difficulty processing language and often looks to me to interpret what is being said. He is partially deaf and wears a hearing aid, but it doesn’t help him decipher the sounds.

He flies into terrible rages when I sometimes do things he believes he hasn’t been consulted about.

I try to double-check with him on everything I do. I also try to put decisions we’ve made in writing and have us both sign.

I’ve asked him to discuss the issue with his doctor, but he won’t. He says I’m making a mountain out of a molehill.

What can I do? In many instances it is my word against his, but everyone who comes into contact with him would acknowledge his forgetfulness (rather like our daughters do, to be dismissed as a fond idiosyncrasy).

ANSWER:

Memory lapses and changes in mood or personality can have a number of causes, including normal ageing, fatigue, depression, untreated hearing loss, alcohol abuse, various physical illnesses and early dementia.

Some causes of memory loss are treatable and for others, like Alzheimer’s disease, there are medications that can reduce symptoms. So a physical check-up as soon as possible is a very important first step.

Your husband’s GP, if alerted to the problem, can suggest a general physical check-up and include a basic memory test as a matter of routine.

Even if your husband performs at a normal level, the check-up and test can be repeated later on, to monitor any changes.

The GP can also refer your husband to a hospital memory clinic, where further testing and treatment could be arranged.

We encourage you to explain to your daughters that whether or not they see this as a problem, for you it is a real cause of daily strain. You need their understanding and emotional support.

Perhaps they can convince their father to have a check-up, to put your mind at ease?

Common early dementia symptoms include forgetfulness and confusion, personality change, and trouble with everyday tasks and new learning.

Some older people fear getting dementia, imagine the worst, and are so worried by signs of forgetfulness that they are reluctant to discuss these problems with their doctor. Others with early dementia have no awareness of their problem, and respond with suspicion and anger to well-intentioned assistance.

Alzheimer’s Australia supports people with a range of memory loss and dementia problems, and their families, with a free advisory service. The National Dementia Helpline is 1800 100 500. You may find calling them helpful.

The Alzheimer’s Australia website provides factsheets in many languages which can be downloaded and printed. Your daughters may find this one useful: https://fightdementia.org.au/about-dementia-and-memory-loss/am-i-at-risk/diagnosing-dementia

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