Q: I am in my late 50s and lost my job due to my mistakes. It seems as though my memory is failing—I have lost memos, forgotten important details and lost track of things I have been doing for 16 years. I became so anxious about my work problems that I used to spend the weekend wishing I did not have to go to work. Now that I have lost my job, however, I am devastated. I’m afraid that I may be developing dementia. My mother died in her 60s and at the end she did not recognise me. I think she may have had Alzheimer’s disease. I’m scared that I may be developing the same problem.
A: Having trouble with one’s memory happens to all ages, but the older person is more likely to take it seriously and suspect something catastrophic.
There are many things that can affect memory. Anxiety, such as you described, may well have limited your performance at work. Depression, stress, loss and grief can have a negative effect on memory ability, as can illness and medications.
Fatigue and lack of sleep would also make it harder for your memory to function well.
However, as life expectancy increases, so does the prevalence of dementia (literally: “loss of the mind”). Memory difficulties are one sign of dementia.
Between the ages of 65 and 85, there is a drastic rise in the incidence of dementia with the most common form being Alzheimer’s disease.
Since your mother may have suffered from a form of dementia, you should have this checked out. Having a family member with dementia increases your risk of developing the same.
The place to start would be with your general practitioner. Instead of worrying about this problem, have it assessed.
There is nothing to be gained from worry, whereas an assessment would hopefully set your mind at ease.
Although there is no cure for dementia as yet, there are medications that can slow the deterioration. Research has shown that mentally stimulating activities such as crossword puzzles and learning a new language, travelling, social activities and exercise improve the memory.
Should your memory problems not be as serious as you suspect (and we hope they will not be), you may wish to explore some of the ways in which you can stimulate your memory and ensure good mental health well into old age.