Talking to a Loved One About Memory Decline

By Ashley Barnes, M.S.

Memory Decline

If you’re reading this blog post, you’ve likely noticed a loved one’s memory declining and may wonder if this is an indication of a developing neurocognitive disorder like dementia. Maybe you’ve noticed cognitive changes in a grandparent or great-grandparent, a parent, a sibling, or a friend. Early signs of a neurocognitive disorder are personality changes, trouble with memory, reduced gaze, trouble managing money, engaging in repetitive behaviors, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, poor decision making, and trouble with finding the right words; perhaps some of these symptoms are jumping out at you.

You may want to address your concerns or your loved one’s concerns about their memory so that they feel less alone. Here are some tips on how to navigate the conversation and connect your loved one with good care:


Before having the conversation, you may want to consider whether they have already inquired about memory issues with their general practitioner or neurologist. Have they mentioned their memory problems or make comments about forgetting words? In other words, are they cognizant of changes in their own cognitive functioning? Are you the right person to bring up this concern with them (or is there someone else in their support system whom they turn to for advice)? Could they be scared about what the changes mean? Considering these questions can be helpful in determining how to bring the conversation up.

Right Time and Place

In bringing up such an important conversation, it is crucial to consider the setting and timing. Picking a setting that is familiar and non-threatening (like a loved one’s home) can help you both feel more comfortable during the course of the conversation. It can also be helpful to ensure that the setting is quiet and there aren’t any distractions, as this conversation deserves undivided attention. Finding a time where you both are not rushed, interrupted, or disturbed will create an intentional space.

Taking a Curious Stance

Invite your loved one to be curious with you in a way that is non-threatening, open, and supportive. When conversational space is created, it can empower loved ones to voice their concerns. This may sound like asking questions like, “I wanted to check in with you – have you been feeling?” or “You’ve expressed concern about having trouble remembering certain things lately – do you want to talk about it?” This makes the conversation more collaborative (which is important, as you don’t want your loved one to feel talked down to). 

If Appropriate, Mention What You Notice

As the conversation progresses, you may want to mention what you have been noticing too. It is important to emphasize to your loved one that you are bringing up what you have noticed because you care about them and want to offer support. Many people who are experiencing memory decline also experience a lot of fear and loneliness if their concerns go unaddressed. Opening up discussion can relieve your loved one of feeling alone in their experience, can address the “elephant in the room,” and can catalyze supportive action. It can also empower your loved one to connect with their own sense of agency.

Staying Positive with Supportive Action

Expressing your care and support can also look like offering to go with your loved one to a general practitioner or neurologist for a neurocognitive evaluation. It can also look like connecting your loved one with mental health professionals so they can process their emotional concerns in a healthy way. If their problems are due to an illness such as dementia, talking to a psychiatrist can lead to the help and support they need. Staying positive about these supportive options can help you and your loved one better navigate their health journey.

Let Us Support You and Your Loved One

Main focal points in geriatric psychiatry pertain to the “prevention, evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of mental and emotional disorders in the elderly and improvement of psychiatric care for healthy and ill elderly patients” (APA, 2021). Some of the most common psychiatric concerns that present in this population entail mood disorders such as depression and neurocognitive disorders such as dementia. 

Here at the  Mental Health Center we have skilled adult and geriatric psychiatrists ready to support you and your loved ones: 

  • Jooyeon Lee, MDDr. Lee is a psychiatrist specializing in general adult and geriatric psychiatry. She has worked with patients from diverse backgrounds in various settings including academic institutions, city/county hospitals, and the Veterans Administration Hospital. She is board-certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, and board-certified in Geriatric Psychiatry. Dr. Lee was selected for the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry Honors Scholars Program for Residents in 2017. Her work has been published in journals including Experimental Gerontology, Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, and the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology.
  • Lydia Ann, MDDr. Lydia Ann is a psychiatrist specializing in general adult psychiatry and a current geriatric psychiatry fellow. She has extensive experience treating patients of various backgrounds in multiple settings, including outpatient, inpatient, partial hospitalization, crisis residential program, emergency department, and corrections. Due to this broad experience, she emphasizes the importance of care coordination and integration of one’s entire support system to bring excellent, individualized care to each patient. Dr. Ann is completing further specialized training in geriatric psychiatry fellowship at UCLA.
  • Miriam Winthrop, MD – Dr. Miriam Winthrop is a board-certified psychiatrist specializing in adult and geriatric psychiatry. She believes in taking a holistic approach to addressing mental health. In addition to her expertise in the use of medications, she has extensive training in multiple types of psychotherapy, including cognitive-behavioral and insight-oriented modalities. Dr. Winthrop has extensive experience working with a wide range of issues, including depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, dementia-related concerns, and end-of-life issues. She received her medical degree from the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California. She completed her residency in adult psychiatry at LAC+USC Medical Center. She completed her fellowship in geriatric psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. She was selected as an Honors Scholar in the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry and received the award for excellence in psychotherapy from the Austen Riggs foundation.

Online Resources.

  • Health in Aging – a service from the American Geriatrics Society gives information for older adults/family members regarding mental health concerns.
  • Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Symptoms – a resource from the National Institute on Aging provides articles and advice for coping with cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s.
  • Cognitive Aging Efforts – created by the American Psychological Association, this site offers up-to-date webinars and informative publications regarding common geriatric concerns.



American Psychiatric Association. (2021). Geriatric Psychiatry. American Psychiatric Association. Retrieved December 17, 2021, from