How to Talk To Your Loved One About Memory Issues: A Guide For Caregivers

For the fifth time this week, your dad is searching through the closets for an old chess board that he donated to charity three years ago. Things like this have been happening a lot lately, and you know it’s finally time to address it.

When a loved one begins to seem more forgetful or confused than usual, it’s natural to be concerned. It can be hard to share those concerns because you’re afraid of what these memory issues could mean or of how your loved one may react. Chances are they may know something is wrong as well but they’re reluctant to talk about it.

These are uncomfortable questions that can be even more uncomfortable to answer, but it’s important to push through that discomfort and have the difficult – yet necessary – conversation. The cause of the memory issues may be something as simple as a new medication or vitamin deficiency, or it could be early memory loss. Either way, if the problem isn’t addressed, things could get worse.

But how do you start such a delicate conversation? Here are 4 steps to help you broach the topic of memory issues in an honest, caring, and respectful way.

  1. Prepare and Plan What To Say

Even if it’s tempting – and well-meaning – don’t bring attention to the memory issues in the moment. Blurting out that your loved one has been really forgetful lately is not likely to lead to a productive conversation. Even if they realize it’s happening, they may feel put on the spot and become defensive.

Entering into the conversation in a familiar and quiet environment with a few prepared questions (and an idea of how your loved one is likely to answer them) can go a long way in making the discussion go smoother.

An opening line suggested by the Alzheimer’s Association is “How have you been feeling lately? You haven’t seemed like yourself.” Or “I noticed you (give example) and it worried me. Has anything else like that happened?”

  1. Explain Why You’re Concerned

Reassure your loved one that you care about them and that you’ve noticed a few behaviors that concern you. Offer up specific examples but do so in a nonjudgmental way. You don’t want them to feel like it’s something they should be ashamed of.

Instead of using accusatory language like, “Why haven’t you been paying your bills?”, you could phrase it in a gentler way. Say, “It seems like you’re finding it hard to keep up with all your bills lately.”

If there are multiple family members in the conversation, it’s important that your loved one doesn’t feel ganged up on or like this is something they’re doing wrong.

  1. Reassure Your Loved One That You’re In This Together

The next step after this conversation should be a meeting with the doctor. If possible, time your conversation shortly before a regularly scheduled doctor’s appointment. That could make the idea of addressing memory issues with your loved one’s physician easier.

Be careful not to dictate what you think they should be doing, though. This should be a partnership where they feel empowered in making decisions about their future. Help them understand that you are moving forward together as you create a plan of action.

The Alzheimer’s Association suggests using encouraging phrases like:

“Let’s see if the doctor can help us figure out what’s going on.”

“The sooner we know what’s causing these problems, the sooner we can address it.”

“I think it would give us both peace of mind if we talked with a doctor.”

  1. Don’t Get Discouraged If They Resist

Even if you try your best to be caring and respectful, your loved one may push back. They may insist nothing is wrong, quit talking, refuse to listen, make excuses, or refuse to go to the doctor. If that happens, it may be wise to let it go for the moment and try again later. If you think it would be useful, consider bringing along another loved one or close family friend the next time around.

If your loved one still refuses to listen, it’s ok to reach out for help. Your doctor’s office can recommend guidance, resources, and other options. They are there to support you as you support your loved one. At St. John’s Community Care, we offer a wide range of resources and support services for both caregivers and those dealing with early memory loss. Reach out today to learn more about how we can help.