Bringing up the subject of memory loss

If you’re worried that someone you love is having trouble with their memory, it might be time to tell them your concerns. But how do you do it without upsetting or offending them? Here’s some of the best ways to get started

Could this be you?

Your loved one is becoming more and more forgetful and you think they should see a doctor. But...

- You dread talking about it because you don't want to frighten them.
- You know they'll just deny it and you'll end up having an argument.
- You've tried discussing it before and they became angry so you gave up.

Whatever the reason, here's what you need to know to make the conversation easier on both of you.

The right time and place

Make sure you are both in comfortable, familiar surroundings - maybe whilst having a cup of tea in the kitchen or during a regular walk in the park. Make sure neither of you are feeling stressed, tearful or irritable.

Don't have this conversation straight after a row about their memory, or after they've just lost their purse for the umpteenth time. You might think this is a good way to 'prove' your point, but it will only make your loved one feel humiliated and defensive.

Be open

Start with a very general question to get the conversation going. For example, ‘you don't seem yourself lately. How are you feeling? Is anything worrying you?’

Listen carefully

They might decide to open up straight away. If so, let them talk without interrupting or contradicting. Then respond positively and kindly. For example, ‘I'm really pleased we're talking about this, because it sounds as if it's been bothering you for quite a while. Why don't we both go and see the doctor? She might be able to help or just put your mind at ease.’

However, the conversation may not go quite so smoothly...

They say: ‘There's nothing wrong with my memory, I'm just feeling tired.’
You say: ‘You might be right, I've noticed how tired you've been lately. You might be anaemic or you might have a thyroid problem. Why don't we make an appointment with the doctor and get it checked out?’
Why: A vitamin B deficiency or an under active thyroid can cause memory problems in older people and before diagnosing dementia a GP will definitely want to rule them out first with a blood test. Reminding your loved one that there are other causes of memory loss might make them feel more inclined to see a GP.

They say: ‘I'm perfectly alright, you worry too much.’
You say: ‘You're right, I do worry about you but that's because I care so much and I've noticed you're having trouble making a cup of tea (for example). It's not your fault, and it might be nothing, I would just feel happier if we got it checked out. Can we make a plan?’
Why: It's really important to acknowledge and respect their feelings. But it's also important to be honest. Giving them an example of the sort of thing you're concerned about, but without any blame attached, is a persuasive combination, especially when it comes from someone who loves them.

Do

Use simple, direct language – but keep your voice warm and friendly
Be ready to take action together – if they agree to see a doctor make the appointment straight away.

Don't

Blame them - their memory problem might be frustrating and worrying, but it isn't their fault.

What if none of this works?

It's possible they might still refuse to accept they have a problem or could benefit from seeing a doctor. This is quite understandable – they might be really frightened or confused. So:

- Give in gracefully, change the subject and try again another time.

- Consider asking someone else to talk to them instead. For example, if it's a parent you're worried about, they might feel more able to confide in a close friend or relative their own age.

Good to know

Many people with dementia are pleased when someone else notices their memory issues. It can come as a great relief to know they aren't alone and that someone wants to help.