10 Steps for Sensitive Conversations

Starting the difficult discussion about memory changes

If your loved one has noticeable changes in memory, he/she may not want to discuss it due to denial. He may not recognize the changes; or he may be trying to cover and cope with what is painfully obvious to him.  Having these conversations may take a while. Some people act quickly to get a diagnosis. Some have to hear it several times, coming to terms with their fears before they will “confess” to their health professionals. Some never seek a diagnosis and never acknowledge it. Here are our best tips for sensitive conversations.

  1. Get information – have the primary contact/family member get as much information as possible before a conversation, including information about memory disorders, and the names of doctors that the individual visits;
    • The primary care physician may be able to diagnose the cause of the memory changes, or a neurologist, geriatric psychiatrist or geriatrician may be a better option.

    • Read up on Alzheimer’s disease, and other conditions which affect memory. Get information from reliable websites, such as the Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org) or the National Institute on Aging (www.alzheimers.org). Learn what the individual may be feeling by reading brochures written for the patient.

  2. Find a time to have a conversation when there are minimal distractions – not when little kids are around, or just before dinner. Create a time that is not threatening, not intimidating and safe.

  3. Choose the timing of the conversation if possible — maybe a week before the next doctor’s appointment — or if there is no upcoming appointment, choose around the date of a seminar or lecture that you might go to in order to learn more.

  4. Start with “you know I love you and always worry about you…” or whatever is comfortable given your relationship.

  5. Point out specific incidents which make you think there might be a CHANGE… and emphasize the changes…. “Dad, you’ve always been on top of the mail, and now it just seems to be piling up everywhere – this new disorganization makes me worry that something has changed…”

  6. Emphasize that this is worrying YOU – avoid letting the person feel “crazy” or “stupid.”  Protect dignity by limiting discussion about who else has noticed.  You might point out that only those closest have noticed.

  7. Add that many things can cause changes in memory – sometimes stress, sometimes sleep problems, sometimes depression, and thyroid or vitamin levels. Regardless, these changes are not to be ignored – they are the body’s way of communicating that something is happening.

  8. Plan what YOU want to come out of this meeting.
    • Going to the MD for a work up,
    • Getting depression assessed,
    • Inquiring about safety concerns.

  9. Be prepared to negotiate – fears about the future are dominant and need reassurance. Focus on “let’s deal with what we KNOW” and get information from trusted, reliable resources.

  10. For comprehensive information on memory disorders, community resources and steps to prepare for the future, contact us at 860-920-1810 to schedule a consultation.