Forgetfulness and confusion can be part of every day life on the dementia journey, but that doesn't mean they are always caused by dementia. Here’s the essential information you need to know

Forgetfulness and confusion are among the most noticeable symptoms of dementia, they can also trigger a range of emotions in both the person who is living with dementia and their loved ones, including frustration, fear and utter exasperation.

Forgetfulness might mean you have to repeat the same conversation over and over again, but sometimes it can lead to more worrying behaviour. For example, the person you love might start getting lost in a town that they’ve lived in for 40 years. Forgetfulness and confusion can also lead to very distressing symptoms such as hallucinations.

Causes of forgetfulness and confusion

- Dementia
- Other medical conditions
- Urinary tract infections (UTIs) and dementia

1. Dementia

If a loved one has dementia - or you suspect that they might - it's easy to assume that their forgetfulness and confusion is simply part of the condition.  After all, awareness of dementia is at an all-time high, so it’s easy to jump to conclusions.

It’s true of course that dementia can cause these symptoms. In diseases such as Alzheimer’s or vascular dementia, deterioration and shrinkage of brain tissue (known as atrophy) affects the links between brain cells, which make it harder for people to store memories. These means they’re more likely to forget information and this can lead to confusion.

For more information on how dementia causes memory loss, click here.

2. Other medical conditions

Forgetfulness and confusion aren't just symptoms of dementia-related illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease. They can also be caused by other issues and conditions, including depression, certain medications, a lack of sleep, poor nutrition and thyroid problems.

So if you're worried about someone's memory, it's really important that you talk to them and that they're  seen by a doctor before jumping to any conclusions.

For more information on other causes of memory loss and confusion, click here.

3. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) and dementia

A UTI is caused when bacteria start to grow in the tube that carries waste liquid from the bladder out of the body. People of any age can get them, but when people over 60 develop one they cause distinct symptoms that are different from younger people.

When younger people get a urinary tract infection, most commonly they experience painful urination, an increased need to urinate, lower abdominal pain, back pain on one side, fever and chills. But because our immune system changes as we get older, and responds differently to infection, seniors with a UTI may show increased signs of confusion, agitation or withdrawal, rather than pain.

Urinary tract infections can make dementia symptoms worse. They sometimes cause distressing behaviour changes  – often referred to as delirium – and might develop in as little as one to two days. Symptoms of delirium can range from agitation and restlessness to hallucinations or delusions.

However, a UTI does not necessarily signal dementia or Alzheimer's. When the infection has passed, people who don't have dementia will simply go back to normal.

For more advice on treating urinary tract infections, and other problems relating to incontinence, click here.

Symptoms of forgetfulness and confusion

- Difficulty remembering information
- Struggling to keep track of conversations
- Getting routines or processes muddled up
- Disorientation – not understanding why you’re in a particular place at a particular time
- Repetitive behaviour
- Hallucinations
- Delirium – more extreme symptoms of confusion, which tend to come on suddenly

How should you respond to forgetfulness and confusion?

Be patient
If you're constantly being asked the same question or watching a loved one repeat the same behaviour over and over again, it can be incredibly frustating. But try to stay as calm as possible Getting angry will only end up upsetting you both. You could also read some strategies to help you NOT lose your temper.

Offer a brief explanation

Don't overwhelm the person you care about with lengthy statements that you hope will ease their confusion because it won't.  Instead, clarify with a simple explanation.

Use props

Photographs, signs and other thought-provoking items can help to remind someone with dementia  of important relationships, places and information.

Correct through suggestion

If they’re getting the name of an item wrong, or are lost and want to go a particular route, don’t  tell them off. Instead, try gentle persuasion, ‘I have a feeling it might be this way’, instead of 'You're going the wrong way!' or ‘I think that’s your granddaughter, Helen,' instead of, 'It's Helen your granddaughter! Don't you remember?'