I think my wife has dementia and I don’t know what to do…

She is 74 and I am 76. We’ve been married for over 50 years and I can’t imagine life without her. We have a son and a daughter and four grandchildren who are now young adults.

They have all noticed changes in her and are putting huge pressure on me to take her to the doctor, but I just can't bring myself to. I'm worried about what we might hear, and I'm not sure she'd go anyway.

She knows that something isn’t quite right but, frankly, we’re both in denial. When I try to talk about it, she just ends up shouting at me that she’s perfectly fine, then we both get upset so we go back to sweeping it all under the carpet.

We used to share all the housework, but I’ve had to take over everything. I help her get dressed and take her to the toilet, she forgets when she’s eaten and I can’t leave her on her own.

Her best friend, who is the same age as her knows that something is wrong and visits regularly and takes her for walks, which I’m so grateful for, because it gives me a break.

What should I do? We’re not rich, but reasonably comfortable, I don’t even know what help we’re entitled to, if any? I’d be so grateful for any advice.


Dear Anonymous,

We’re so sorry to hear about your wife, it’s very distressing when a loved one starts to show signs of memory loss, however mild. There is help and support out there, when you feel ready to find it. It’s important that you know that you are not alone and there are thousands of people in your position.

Your family is right, your GP is your first port of call. Difficult and distressing though it is, you might find that once you talk to someone and get a diagnosis, it is a relief to no longer cope with this on your own. There are other very good reasons to go as soon as possible:  

  • Firstly, the earlier the diagnosis, the better the treatment and support is. Once you’re on the dementia healthcare radar, it will be easier for your wife to access the treatment, care and support she needs.
  • Although there is no cure, there are drugs that can help in the short-term with memory and improve quality of life. A timely diagnosis means you can make adjustments to home life and gain support from organisations and charities - Dementia UK has a free helpline for support, information, advice and a sympathetic ear - 0800 888 6678.
  • You may need to consider more practical issues such as finances, putting Enduring Power of Attorney in place (where your wife gives you permission to manage her financial affairs), legal issues and making decisions for the present and the future. The earlier you do this, the easier the future will be.

  If your wife doesn’t want to go, a sympathetic GP might call her in for a general health review (you could say you are having one too), or just a simple blood pressure check and then, once in the surgery, you can very gently take it from there. If she still refuses, The GP may be able to do a home visit.

 There are conditions that create dementia like symptoms but are easily treatable, so your GP can eliminate these. For example: depression, an underactive thyroid, vitamin B12 deficiency, delirium caused by an infection and even the side effects of some medicines can all affect someone’s memory or cognition.

Your GP may do some blood tests and then a simple memory test. They may well decide to refer your wife to a memory clinic for more specialist investigations. The memory clinic may refer your wife for a brain scan. It’s important to reassure your wife that she will be well looked after and that certainly in the early stages, there are plenty of things that can be done to make life easier.