Demystifying memory

Dr Joe Stratford

Dr Joe Stratford - Credit: Archant

If you’re worried about your memory, consultant psychiatrist Dr Joe Stratford hopes to put your mind at rest

Memory lapses and problems with concentration are very common, especially in this modern, fast-paced

Memory lapses and problems with concentration are very common, especially in this modern, fast-paced world - Credit: Archant

Common causes of such problems include stress, anxiety and depression. It’s not hard to see why – when people are low or preoccupied with worry, poor concentration often results, and this in turn, can lead to people failing to remember conversations, appointments or even events.


Cobalt - Credit: Archant

Other causes of forgetfulness can also be associated with a variety of physical factors such as vitamin deficiencies or thyroid problems. A common cause of memory problems especially in middle to late age can be a cluster of conditions known as the dementias. Of these, Alzheimer’s dementia is the most prevalent but there are many different types. A small proportion has a genetic basis and can appear to run in families, but most dementias occur in association with the ageing process.

Often individuals themselves will notice difficulties with their memory or concentration, but sometimes changes can be quite subtle and can affect language – people may experience ‘going blank’ in mid-sentence or simply struggling to find the right word to use. Tasks such as mental arithmetic, spelling or ability to manage puzzles (eg crosswords or Su Doku etc) may start to become more difficult.

We would encourage individuals or families of those experiencing difficulties to firstly approach their family doctor. Often the cause may be obvious to the GP but in some cases, it may be worth a referral onto a specialist memory assessment service. Such an assessment would involve taking a detailed history of the problem as well as investigations such as blood tests, measures of concentration and memory, and often some sort of brain imaging such as a scan undertaken at a hospital or specialist unit.

Achieving a diagnosis is very important whatever the cause is found to be. This diagnostic process can often lead to reassurance that things aren’t as bad as patients/families might have imagined, or treatment and support for conditions which have been diagnosed. In those cases where dementia is diagnosed, appropriate treatment can often be started and patients as well as their families will be given information on how to access as much support and information as they need. Early diagnosis of such conditions can lead to earlier access to medication which can treat many of the symptoms and improve the long term outlook. These medications have been shown to work more effectively in the milder and early stages of dementia, so it is logical to seek diagnosis and treatment as early as possible.

One of the most satisfying aspects of my job as a consultant psychiatrist is when I’m able to reassure patients and their families that they or their loved one is not suffering from anything serious. Often people have been worrying for months or even years, and putting their minds at rest brings huge relief all round! n

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Memory Clinic, tel: 07861 050104,