If you are concerned that an aging parent seem more forgetful than usual or perhaps a bit confused, discussing those concerns with them is important for a number of reasons.
Perhaps the most important of these is that such symptoms should be evaluated by your parent’s healthcare provider as soon as possible.
While the most common assumption or fear when it comes to memory loss and other cognitive symptoms is that your parent may have Alzheimer's disease or dementia, there are many other issues that can be at the root of these problems, including chronic health conditions, medications or depression, for example.
Whatever the underlying cause turns out to be, getting an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment is essential to your parent’s health, safety and quality of life. That said, it is sure to be a very difficult conversation for all involved. So how to talk to aging parents about memory loss?
Take some time to plan what you will say
Perhaps the most important thing to know about how to talk to aging parents about memory loss is that it should never be an off-the-cuff discussion. Rather, discussing a topic as important and emotionally charged should be done with some prior planning. Try to put yourself in your parent’s shoes as you plan your approach. To be productive, make sure that you plan a discussion, not a lecture, and be humble, respectful, helpful and willing to listen to your parent’s viewpoints as well as expressing your own.
Choose a good setting and time for the talk
This type of discussion should be held in a private setting where your parent feels relaxed – a quiet and familiar place with as few distractions as possible. Plan your talk for a time when both you and your parent have plenty of time to work things out without feeling rushed.
Explain your specific concerns
If your goal is to encourage your parent to recognize that there may be a problem and take action, being specific about your concerns is important. Write down specific incidents or behaviors that worry you. Perhaps your parent has forgotten to take important medications, for instance, or has taken too much medication due to memory problems. Maybe they have been forgetting to pay bills or have missed medical appointments due to forgetfulness. That said, be careful to approach these problems in a soft, caring and concerned manner, rather than an accusatory or confrontational tone.
Be prepared with a suggested plan of action
If your discussion yields the results you are looking for, with your parent ready to accept that memory loss is becoming a real problem, you will want to be prepared to work out a concrete plan of action. Have a list of suggestions ready to discuss with your parent, such as a medical evaluation, for instance, and/or solutions for getting your parent help with tasks that have become difficult to handle.
Finally, it is important not to get discouraged if your first talk does not work out as well as you hope. It generally is not easy for an aging parent to accept that changes must be made, and it is common for them to feel upset, resistant or defensive. You may have to try several times to get through to your parent. Broach the subject again in a week or so, after your parent has had a chance to cool off and think things through. If you still cannot reach your parent, consider asking for help from other family members, close friends or a counselor who is experienced with elder care issues.