It is normal to experience some memory loss due to age but as it could be a symptom of a more serious illness, it is better to be checked by a GP. They can make an initial assessment and then refer a patient on to a suitable specialist if they feel it is necessary.
In older patients, relatives often fear that memory loss is a sign of dementia but this is not necessarily the case, it could also be a sign of a more common illness such as depression, anxiety or stress. It can also be caused by a head injury or stroke or to the benign forgetfulness of old age. According to NHS choices, around 40% of people over 65 have some kind of memory difficulty and only 15% will develop dementia each year.
Less common causes include an underactive thyroid, side-effects of medication, brain haemorrhage, brain tumour or a vitamin B1 deficiency.
Dementia sufferers struggle to remember immediate or recent events but can still recall events from the past. Therefore if long-term memory is affected, it is probably not dementia. If an elderly person is also suffering from poor concentration, sleeping problems, behavioural changes or irritability these may be symptoms of depression.
Treatment will depend on the diagnosis. Our consultants are able to diagnose a variety of mental conditions that may cause memory loss and will make a referral to another medical specialist if they feel the patient would be better treated elsewhere, for example in the case of dementia.