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Are Your Parents Becoming Forgetful? Here’s What NOT To Say

It’s frustrating when parents start becoming forgetful, but spare a thought to how they must be feeling. Becoming forgetful and showing a mild slowness of thinking is usually a normal part of ageing, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t scary and frustrating for your parents. They may know that they’re getting forgetful but don’t want to be reminded of it because memory loss can be quite terrifying and depressing. So it’s very important to be careful of what to say around them so that we don’t unintentionally make them upset or feel unwanted or disrespected.

Here are a few tips to help you remember what NOT to say to your ageing parents:

1. “I just told you that!”, “You’ve already told me that” or “We’ve already been through this”

Older people diagnosed with cognitive decline, Alzheimer's Disease, or dementia will usually repeat the same things over and over again, but since they don't recall doing so, to them, it's fresh information. While it’s frustrating for you to keep hearing things youv'e already heard before, they’re holding dear to their memories and sharing them with you because they find it therapeutic. Be kind and smile as you listen to that memory again.

2. “This isn’t hard. Why are you struggling to do this?” or “I just showed you last night how to use this”

No matter what age you are, nobody wants to be talked down to or made to feel that they aren’t behaving normally. Short-term memory loss can occur before long-term memory loss, and many seniors can struggle with even basic tasks during these years and unkind remarks like this can deepen their sense of rejection and frustration. Instead of losing your cool and chastising the forgetful behaviour, the kinder alternative would be to exercise patience and explain things differently or write out instructions (in large handwriting) for important tasks they may forget.


3. “Mum, you really need to tidy up in here; this place is a mess!”

Before you scold the lady who literally has cleaned up after you all her life, spare a thought to what might be bringing on her untidiness. Instead of it being a case of laziness, the house is probably a mess because your mum needs help with housekeeping now. Perhaps she’s unsteady on her feet and doesn’t feel safe using the heavy vacuum or taking laundry downstairs, or perhaps she forgets where she puts things. If she feels like she’ll get scolded when she talks to you about it, then obviously she’s not going to bother saying anything and will try and deal with it on her own.

4. “What does this have to do with anything?”

If your parents bring up seemingly random stories that have nothing to do with the current conversation, you must remember that they often have a reason, even if we have no idea what it is. In this situation, you can try asking them what made them think of that particular story or memory. They will probably be able to tell you once you patiently ask what their thought process was.


5. “How can you not remember (that person’s) name?”

We all forget names from time to time, so imagine how difficult it would be for someone older who’s starting to forget things. Instead of making them feel conscious and stressed by being sarcastic, gently remind them of the name that they are searching for and move on.

6. Don’t speak for them

Likewise, while there are certain things to not say to your parents, on the opposite side of the spectrum, don’t talk over your parents or try to speak for them either, unless they are really not able to communicate for themselves anymore. This is especially important when you are at a doctor’s visit or talking to a member of their care team. Unless it is an absolute crisis, remember that your parents need to retain the right to speak for themselves and maintain their dignity and control for as long as possible, so let them take their time, however slow and frustrating as it may feel to you.

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