How to Talk to a Loved One About Memory Loss

Living Well Into the Future® by Deupree House

How to Talk to a Loved One About Memory Loss

Featured Stories

Filter By Categories

About 40% of people over the age of 65 in the United States have memory loss. However, only about 6 million people, or 1% of the population, have dementia.

Just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s easy to notice in your loved one or even have a conversation with them about it. When you see signs of memory loss in your loved ones, your first instinct is likely to worry. Maybe you’re worried about their quality of care, their health, or their safety.

No matter what you’re worried about, you might also be concerned about whether it’s a good time to talk with your loved one about what you’ve been noticing. Knowing when the right time to have this discussion is can be challenging. There are a few things you may want to look for before you begin the conversation.

Knowing When to Discuss Your Loved One’s Memory Loss with Them

First of all, the earlier you can have this conversation, the better. If they happen to be progressing toward dementia, early intervention can be helpful. Beyond that, it can be challenging to have the conversation as more symptoms develop. Instead, you want to be able to talk with them while their cognitive function is still high.

Before you have the conversation, though, you need to know what symptoms for which you should be looking. Here are the most common: 

  • Confusing places or times
  • Misplacing items
  • Challenges in problem-solving or planning
  • Changes in mood or personality
  • Poor judgment
  • Withdrawal from social activities
  • Sleep disruption
  • Poor mobility

If you see some of these symptoms in your loved one, it’s probably time to have a conversation with them. We understand that it can be difficult, so here are a few ways you can make that discussion go smoothly. 

4 Tips for Talking to a Loved One About Memory Loss

1. Plan out the meeting.

You don’t want to have this conversation on the fly. Instead, pick a time and prepare for it. This way, you’ll have time to organize your thoughts into notes and ensure you talk about everything you want to discuss. Ensure that you and your loved one both have plenty of time, as you don’t want this conversation to feel rushed. 

Prepare yourself for pushback from your loved one. Memory loss is a sensitive subject, and they also might not recognize the symptoms in themself. They might withdraw or try to counter your thoughts.

2. Have the conversation in private.

Again, since this can be a sensitive subject, you want to find a place where you won’t be overheard or interrupted. Avoid going out for dinner or coffee for this conversation. Instead, sit down at home, where your loved one will feel comfortable, safe, and confident while speaking with you.

3. Choose your language carefully.

The last thing you want to do is come across as judgmental. Think about your words before you speak so you can ensure your tone is loving and caring. Try asking questions and making suggestions, rather than making concrete, definitive statements. Make sure the conversation feels open for your loved one to engage at any point.

4. Create a plan together.

After you’ve expressed your thoughts, it’s time to create a plan for moving forward. Hopefully, your loved one has acknowledged your concerns and is open to working on the next steps. If not, it might be better to continue this conversation at another time.

If you can, though, begin discussing the next steps. Some things can cause memory loss, and not all of them are permanent. The first step should be for your loved one to visit their primary care provider to see if there’s anything acute happening, like a nutritional deficiency, sleep disorder, or medication reaction.

If the diagnosis involves dementia, Alzheimer’s, or age-related memory loss, though, you’ll need to create a plan of care with your loved one. Involving them in their care decisions will help them be more open to moving forward with it. 

Moving into a memory care community isn’t always necessary at this point, but it’s good to explore all of your options. Marjorie P. Lee recently opened our newest long-term memory care household, Amstein House. We also provide memory care services — known as Living Well Memory Support — in our Kirby, Morris, and Luther Houses. 

Outlining and finalizing your loved one’s memory care plan should involve input from you, your loved one, and their physician. Your loved one needs to understand that they have options, and they can choose the course of action that’s best for them and their health.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This blog was originally published on October 3, 2017, but was updated and republished with new information. 

dementia guide - marjorie p lee

Kristin Davenport
November 05, 2020
Kristin Davenport is the Director of Communications for Episcopal Retirement Services (ERS). Kristin leads ERS’s efforts to share stories that delight and inspire through social media, online content, annual reports, magazines, newsletters, public relations, and events. Kristin earned her BFA in graphic design from Wittenberg University. She joined ERS after a 25-year career as a visual journalist and creative director in Cincinnati. Kristin is passionate about making Cincinnati a dementia-inclusive city. She is a Lead SAIDO Learning Supporter and a member of the ‘Refresh Your Soul’ conference planning team at ERS. Kristin and her husband Alex, live in Lebanon, Ohio with their 2 daughters. She also serves as a Trustee and the President of the Lebanon Food Pantry and is a board member for ArtScape Lebanon.

Subscribe Email

Dementia Guide


Positive Aging Guide