Talking to someone about their memory problems

If someone you know is having problems with their memory, talking about it can help them get support. If these problems are affecting their everyday life, you should encourage them to see a GP.

It can be difficult to talk to someone about problems with their memory. We have advice to help you start a conversation.

Taking the first step

Before talking to the person, think about the following:

  • What could be stopping the person from seeing the GP about their memory problems?
  • Have they mentioned their memory problems?
  • Do they describe their memory problems as a natural part of ageing?
  • Could they be scared about what the changes could mean?
  • Do they think there won’t be any point in seeking help?
  • Are you the right person to speak with them? There might be someone else who they turn to for advice. 
  • Would they find it reassuring to have someone offer to go to the GP with them?

These questions will help you to consider how the person might be feeling and how you can address their concerns.

Tips for talking to someone about their memory problems

There isn't a 'right' or 'wrong' way to discuss what you’ve noticed. It's a good idea to think about the person, your relationship, and how they prefer to communicate. 

The following tips may also help;

  • Pick a place that is familiar and non-threatening, so you can talk about it where you both feel comfortable. 
  • Find a quiet time when you won’t be rushed, disturbed or interrupted. If this is when the GP surgery is open and the person feels ready to book a GP appointment, they can do this.
  • Choose the words you use carefully – use reassuring and non-judgemental language.
  • You might start the conversation by gently asking the person if they’ve noticed any changes about themselves recently or been feeling any different from usual. Are they struggling with anything? 
  • If appropriate, mention things you’ve noticed or examples that you’re concerned about. Show that you are raising concerns because you care about them and want to offer support.
  • Be positive – if their problems are due to an illness such as dementia, talking to a GP can lead to the help and support they need. Read our information on the benefits of getting a diagnosis for someone living with dementia. 
  • Listen to the person and take on board how they respond. They may not react how you expect them to. You may need to adapt your approach, but try not to worry if they don’t respond well. This may come as a surprise to them and make them frightened and confused. Or they may not be aware of the problems you’ve noticed. 
Is it getting older or dementia?

Our information on differences between signs of getting older and possible symptoms of dementia may also help you explain to the person why you think they should talk to the GP.

Find out more

What if they are reluctant to see the GP?

If you don’t seem to be able to make progress in persuading them to see the GP, you could mention your concerns to the GP yourself.

Patient confidentiality means the GP is not able to give out information about a patient, but they are able to receive information. It is up to the individual GP whether they decide to take any action on information received.

Get help and advice

For more advice, call our Dementia Connect support line and speak to a trained dementia adviser. 

Dementia Support Line
Our dementia advisers are here for you.
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