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Are changes to thinking and memory a normal part of ageing?

Being diagnosed with dementia is not a normal part of ageing, but changes to thinking and memory are common and affect a lot of people. In fact, in Australia, nearly half a million people live with some form of dementia and many live with some kind of cognitive impairment.

Dementia is a broad term, not one specific disease. It refers to a collection of symptoms that typically affects thinking, behaviour, and the ability to perform everyday tasks. 

Common symptoms include:

  • trouble remembering recent events
  • challenges in planning or solving problems
  • struggling to find the right words or following conversations
  • trouble remembering the day and dates
  • increase in forgetting where things are normally kept
  • difficulty completing everyday tasks 
  • increased difficulty handling finances
  • lost interest in activities or social catch-ups.

Changes to memory and thinking may not be caused by dementia. They may be related to health and lifestyle factors including stress, pain, chronic illness, some medications, alcohol and fatigue. 

Speaking to a doctor about any changes you recognise in yourself or a loved one is important as soon as you can.

Since getting a diagnosis of dementia and accessing support services Dementia Advocate Jenni Lawson says she feels “so much more empowered and able to live my life on a day-to-day basis, really, in such a good way.” 

If the symptoms are caused by dementia, a timely diagnosis means early access to information, advice and support to help you make lifestyle adjustments to match your capabilities and live well. If symptoms are not caused by dementia, early diagnosis will be helpful to treat other conditions.

Learning about changes to thinking and memory as we age is important. While we cannot change getting older, you can make changes to some health and lifestyle habits to reduce or delay your risk of developing dementia.

Why it’s important to stay social and talk about changes: 

Maintaining social connections as we age is essential to maintaining our general well-being and brain health. It helps to build a core group of people you can talk openly with about ageing. 

Being social plays an important role to:

  • look after your body, heart and mind 
  • improve wellbeing and reduce feelings of loneliness and depression
  • reduce the risk of cognitive (thinking) decline
  • maintain your identity. 

Friends and family can be a great support to talk about general health and wellbeing – it’s important for everyone. You may notice changes in a friend, or they may notice changes in you. And the earlier you start to notice and discuss changes, the better. 

If you would like to have a conversation about thinking and memory changes, the best place to start is with The National Dementia Helpline.  

“Every single person who rings up will have a different question. There’s no one set topic because dementia is so unique and so the reasons why people will contact us are going to be very unique as well,” says Peter, who speaks to people with concerns about their memory as part of his work as a counsellor and support specialist for people living with dementia.

Dementia Australia is the source of trusted information, education and support services. We advocate for positive change for people living with dementia, their families and carers, and support vital research.

Dementia Australia provides support at every stage from pre-diagnosis onwards. This includes people with concerns about changes in memory and thinking. 

Dementia Australia’s highly-trained dementia specialists can support you and connect you to the services and information you need over the phone, via email or through an online chat function. Families, carers, and friends play a crucial supporting role in the care of someone living with dementia. If you know anyone who is worried about their memory, there is also someone ready to listen and support you. It’s never too early to ask questions about your or a loved one’s memory and thinking.

Call the National Dementia Helpline now on 1800 100 500

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