What is a memory consultation?

The memory consultation consists of an appointment with a neuropsychologist where a short interview and a set of neuropsychological tests are performed all associated with memory loss.

People mention memory as if it is a single system of the brain, but in fact we have several types of memory, with different underlying neural pathways and locations. For instance, there is a part of the brain which focuses on memory for faces, memory related to movement (riding a bike, swimming), memory for language and words, memory for locations and directions, and so on.

When most people mention loss of memory, they are usually referring to episodic memory which is the system that records events such as a holiday, a birthday party or what one had for lunch the day before.

Complaints related to memory can be due to various conditions such as depression or dementia (with different cognitive patterns). Usually, a normal healthy ageing process does not give rise to significant memory complaints.

Complaints related to memory are the main symptom in most cases of early dementia such as Alzheimer’s Disease. This specialised screening consultation detects if there is a decrease in episodic memory and what is the general cognitive status of the individual. During this consultation, different types of memory loss associated with different conditions can also be detected.

Memory loss related to the ageing process is normal and the neuropsychological testing will evaluate if the individual’s memory loss is within what is expected for his age group or if it is due to a more significant decline which might indicate an illness.

Dementias are very difficult to diagnose. Most of them are only diagnosed when the impact on the activities of everyday life is severe. Neuropsychological testing provides a baseline whereby the decline in cognitive functions is noticed several years before they became clinically significant.

The memory consultation also means that medical help, counselling and cognitive training can be obtained before any clinically significant disturbance occurs in daily living activities.

When should I see a neuropsychologist to have my memory tested?

■ When other people, such as a partner, start to notice your forgetfulness;

■ When quality of life is affected by your forgetfulness:

– Losing important things around the house, such as keys, wallet or glasses;

– forgetting where you parked the car;

– forgetting if you closed the front door and need to check;

– repeating the same story or asking the same questions several times;

– forgetting friends’ names or that of public figures;

■ The wish to have a baseline reference data of your cognitive functioning for future reference (diagnostic tool for future reference; will be useful for at least 20 years).

By Dr Filipe Fernandes
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Dr Filipe Fernandes is a psychologist and neuropsychologist at Hospital Particular – Alvor and Gambelas, and Clínica Particular – AlgarveShopping, Guia