Memory Loss and Dementia

Authored by Dr Mary Harding, 02 Jul 2017

Patient is a certified member of
The Information Standard

Reviewed by:
Dr John Cox, 02 Jul 2017

Memory loss has a number of causes, one of which is dementia. Dementia is a progressive condition which causes deteriorating mental function which interferes with activities of daily living.

It affects functions such as:

  • Memory
  • Thinking
  • Language
  • Orientation
  • Judgement
  • Social behaviour

There is no escaping the fact that dementia is a terrifying illness, which ruins lives and relationships for people who have the condition, and for their nearest and dearest. So it isn't surprising that whenever we forget somebody's name, or put our specs in the fridge, we panic just a little bit that we are developing dementia. Thankfully, not all memory loss is caused by dementia, and lapses in memory can have other less scary causes.

It is normal for memory to deteriorate a tad as we get older, and this doesn't necessarily mean we are developing dementia. It is normal for memory not to work well when we are concentrating on too many things at the same time. So when we are stressed (and who isn't?!) that can affect memory. Physical and mental illness can temporarily affect memory too.

But, unfortunately, dementia is also depressingly common. The World Health Organization (WHO) tells us there are 47.5 million people in the world with dementia, and another 7.7 million develop the condition each year. By 2050, it is expected that there will be 135.5 million people in the world with dementia (over 2 million in the UK). So if dementia is affecting you or your loved one, you are certainly not battling alone.

Dementia is caused by damage to the brain over time. The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer's disease, and it is not really known what causes this. Another common type is caused by multiple mini-strokes to the brain, damaging the blood supply.

This is very individual. Usually in the early stages of dementia it is safe to drive. In later stages it is likely that the ability to drive safely will be impaired. If you have been diagnosed with dementia in the UK, you must notify the DVLA. You may be able to continue driving a car or a motorcycle safely for some time, but you may be asked to have a driving test and/or your doctor may be asked to complete a medical report for the DVLA. Driving will then be subject to a medical assessment and will be reviewed each year.

Someone who has been diagnosed with dementia will not be able to continue to drive a bus (or other vehicle that carries passengers) or a lorry or large goods vehicle.

Further reading and references

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