Memory Loss or Dementia?

Everyday memory lapses such as the inability to recall a friend's name, or forgetting appointments often raise fear of dementia. This serious brain disorder affects a person's ability to carry out daily activities.


While memory difficulties are an early symptom of the dementias, the underlying biological brain changes are very different to the memory loss that may occur with ageing.


There is a common tendency to label anyone with dementia as having Alzheimer's Disease. Although the most common, Alzheimer's is but one of the causes of dementia. Other causes of dementia include Lewy Body, Vascular, Frontotemporal, Creutzfeldt-Jakob, and some with Parkinson's disease develop dementia in later stages of the disease.


Dementia is the problem!  In 60-70% of dementias, Alzheimer's Disease will be the cause.

Dementia is the gradual deterioration of mental functioning, such as concentration, memory, and judgment, which affects a person’s ability to perform normal daily activities.

The dementias are a medical condition resulting in impaired cognitive functioning on a wide range of abilities such as thought, memory, emotion, and language. While the incidence of dementias such as Alzheimer's Disease rise with increasing age, it can affect people at any age and is not part of the normal ageing process.


While neuroscientists are still investigating the causes of Alzheimer's Disease, it is agreed that an abnormally increased development of amyloid plaques (a sticky protein) and neurofibrillary tangles (insoluable twisted fibres called tau) is a defining characteristic of Alzheimer's.


As well as memory problems, one of the early signs of Alzheimer's is often difficulty with language and routine activities such as driving, shopping, or finding one's way even in familiar environments. Daily tasks such as dressing, showering, or making a cup of tea may be compromised.  This can be folowed by mood and behavioural changes such as agitation, verbal abusiveness, and delusions.


One of the difficulties of accurately diagnosing Alzheimer's is that people may experience a different range of symptoms and these change over the course of the disease.

Memory Problems That Aren't Part of Normal Ageing

  • Forgetting autobiographical information such as your address

  • Having difficulty learning new things

  • Profound difficulty in recalling objects, places, times, dates, names

  • Forgetting how to do everyday things you have done many times before

  • Not recognising family or friends

  • Forgetting how to maintain personal hygiene

  • Repeating phrases, questions or stories in the same conversation

  • Trouble making choices or handling money

  • Unable to find your way in familiar surroundings

  • Tendency to wander aimlessly from your home

  • Noticeable language and intellectual decline

  • Poor judgement

  • A growing sense of distrust

  • Unusual irritability and/or aggression

  • Noticeable change of personality in later stages of the disease

  • Inability to keep track of day to day events

  • General loss of social graces

  • Inability to follow simple instructions or to concentrate

  • Feeling more depressed, confused, restless and anxious

  • Delusions or hallucinations in later stages of the disease

If you believe you, or someone close to you, may be developing Alzheimer's Disease, vascular dementia (Vascular dementia is the second most common form of dementia, and is caused by chronic, reduced blood flow to the brain—usually as the result of a stroke or series of strokes.) or other dementia, ask your general practitioner to arrange for diagnostic tests by a neurologist or the Dementia Clinic at your local hospital.  Diagnostic tests will be carried out and advice will be given on how to best cope with the life difficulties which accompany dementia.

The Alzheimer's Reading Room have produced a wonderful little video showing how Alzheimer's Disease spreads through the brain.  This may be viewed at:  

The Auckland Memory Clinic can assist in the very early stages of dementia, but

later stages of the disease are best catered for in specialist units.


Did you know there are six stages in the progression of Alzheimer's Disease?