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What Not to Say to Someone With Memory Loss?

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A young woman looking frustrated with her senior mother.

Memory loss can be a difficult condition to deal with on both sides of a conversation. It is important to be mindful of what you say to someone who has memory loss to prevent causing any confusion, embarrassment or frustration. As much as possible, it is important to maintain normal and natural conversations with people with memory loss.

Some common phrases and topics that should be avoided when speaking to someone with memory loss include telling them they’re wrong about something, arguing with them, asking if they remember something or stating that they should remember something, reminding them that you’ve heard what they have to say before, asking them to identify themselves, referring to the past, or asking if they’ve taken their medication. 

Tylers Mill Senior Living provides memory care in a personalized manner. When it comes to memory care, no two individuals are the same, and our tailored services reflect those variances.

Our services and programs are customized to those experiencing Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other kinds of dementia.

“I Just Told You That!”

It is common for people with memory loss to forget things that you may have just said to them moments ago. 

Repetition may seem frustrating to the listener; but avoid phrases like “I just told you that!” or “Do you never remember?” Instead, try to rephrase your statement or question to help them remember.

“You Just Told Me That.”

Repeatedly pointing out their forgetfulness can be disheartening. Instead, focus on the present moment and guide the conversation without drawing attention to their memory lapses.

“You Should Know This.”

While someone with memory loss may have difficulty retaining information, it is important to avoid making them feel worse by arguing or saying things like “You should remember this.” They are not to blame for their condition.

Try to approach the conversation as naturally as possible, and if needed, try to offer context hints or clues in the course of your conversation.

“I Already Told You This.”

Expressing frustration with repetition can be hurtful. Gently guide them through the information again, emphasizing your willingness to assist.

“It’s Not That Hard. Anyone Can Remember That.”

They are still a part of “anyone.” Minimizing the challenges they face can be hurtful. Acknowledge the difficulties without diminishing their experiences, offering support rather than judgment.

“You’re Not Trying Hard Enough.”

Attributing their memory loss to lack of effort oversimplifies a complex issue. Remember, memory loss is often beyond one’s control, and blaming the person can be counterproductive.

“Don’t You Remember When…”

It is crucial to avoid talking about past events as if they are recent memories for someone with memory loss. 

Avoid phrases that start with “Don’t you remember when…” or “How could you forget?” Instead, focus on creating new memories and experiences that you can share together.

“Back in The Good Old Days…”

Referring to the past may inadvertently highlight the contrast between their current and past cognitive abilities. Instead, focus on the positive aspects of the present moment.

“Who Are You?”

Asking someone with memory loss to identify themselves or someone they are supposed to know during conversation can be extremely distressing. 

Instead, try to start the conversation with their name and gauge their reaction. If there is any indication of confusion, try starting the conversation over and reintroduce yourself.

“I’ll Remind You Tomorrow.”

While it may seem helpful, offering to remind someone with memory loss in the future is not an effective solution. 

A woman marking important dates on her calendar.

People with memory loss may not even remember the conversation, to begin with. Instead, try to avoid promises like this and instead use calendars, notes or other memory aids as a method of keeping time-sensitive issue reminders.

“Let Me Do It; You Can’t Handle This.”

Offering help is appreciated, but assuming they can’t manage tasks on their own can be disempowering. Encourage independence while being ready to assist when needed. Don’t focus on what they can’t do, instead focus on what they can do.

“Have You Taken Your Medication?”

Presuming that memory loss is solely due to medication can oversimplify the situation. Consult with healthcare professionals rather than making assumptions about their medical condition.

Your loved one may not provide a truthful response to this question without meaning to lie. Just like any other question you might ask, their response will likely be affirmative, stating that they’re a grownup and are capable of taking their own medication–even if they haven’t.

Fostering Empathy & Understanding in Communication with Memory Loss

Memory loss can be a devastating condition that requires a lot of patience and understanding. Conversations can be difficult, but it is essential to be mindful of what you say and how you say it. Avoiding phrases that may inadvertently belittle or stigmatize their condition is crucial. 

If you need help navigating a conversation with someone with memory loss, ask for advice or training from a professional or caregiver. The most important thing is not to give up on conversations with people who have memory loss as there is still a lot to be learnt, shared and enjoyed. 

Remember, every person with memory loss is unique, and there is no one answer that suits all situations. By fostering a supportive environment, Tylers Mill Senior Living contributes to your loved one’s well-being and enhances the quality of their interactions. Give us a call today or schedule a visit to see how we can help.

Written by Ryan Donahue, Regional Vice President

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