What to Say When Your Parent's Memory Starts to Slip

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess we’ve all had some moments with our aging parents that drive us a little crazy. As much as we love our parents, it still can be difficult to be told the same story over and over again. Seniors often know that their memory and physical abilities are weakening, and reminders can be hurtful. When seniors brain functions start “slipping,” they are aware of the loss, and they are often terrified, scared and even isolating. We wanted to take this opportunity to help find some other ways to cope and communicate with aging parents when you notice a decline in their memory.

1. Don’t say “you really don’t remember that?” Seniors often lose short-term memory before long-term and forget all kinds of things we think are important, like where they put their eye glasses, keys or dog leash.

Try this: Place some notes around on the car dashboard, fridge and anywhere else they may need reminders. Add a smiley face to keep it light and make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. If that doesn’t seem to work, ask another family member to check in and remind them.

2. Don’t say “I just showed you how to do this last week! How can you not remember?” Learning new skills and technology can be challenging for any adult, but gadgets with lots of buttons and options create a special challenge for someone whose cognition or eyesight is failing.

Try this: Ask your parents’ cable provider to recommend a senior-friendly remote control with a simple design or pick one up at a local store. Another option is creating a step by step video or write out directions and leave near the remote.

3. Don’t say “what are you even talking about?” One second you and your mom and discussing where to go for lunch and then the next she is off talking about her friend’s new car. It’s hard to keep seniors focused on one subject for a long period of time. It can also be frustrating when you’re trying to have a meaningful conversation and the subject radically changes.

Try this: “Mom, we were just in the middle of picking out where to go for lunch. I’m starving!” If the subject is important to you, try to bring the conversation back on track without pointing a finger at your parent. Another option: Just smile and listen.

4. Don’t say “you’ve told me this story a hundred times.” We ALL are guilty of repeating things from time to time but for some reason, it’s more annoying and distracting when it’s our elderly parents.

Try this: “Let me guess, you then did XYZ…” It’s totally fine to make a joke out of it if you think your parent(s) won’t feel hurt or made fun of. Sometimes, laughing and making the best of it is all we can do.