Repetitive Questions and Dementia

June 11, 2019

For family and caregivers of a memory-impaired individual, one of the most frustrating things to experience is your loved one’s repetitive questions. While not all who are living with dementia exhibit this symptom, when it is present it can be quite frustrating for those in their company. However, with a little understanding, patience, and a bit of creativity, there is much that can be done to help support your loved one and guide them towards better communication.

Understanding that Alzheimer’s is the breakdown of a series of brain nerve cells and that this breakdown affects an individual's ability to process information is a good starting point on the road for providing support to your loved one and the many behaviors come with the condition. In most cases, a person with memory-impairment will not remember having already asked a question only minutes prior. They are not capable of understanding why their caregiver might be frustrated by a question they have innocently asked. Expressing such frustration only adds to their confusion and distress.  It is possible that the individual is trying to express discomfort, concern, or some type of anxiety or insecurity.

Some methods we have found successful are:

  • Accept and expect that this behavior is a part of your loved one’s condition. It helps put things in perspective and increases patience when communicating with your loved one.
  • Reassure them with a calm and steady voice. Avoid arguing or rationalizing with the person, as this is not in his/her capacity at this stage of their journey.
  • Look for the “why” behind each repetition. Do you notice a pattern developing over time? Does this behavior happen at a certain time of day or in certain rooms? Anticipating these behaviors can be the first step towards support.
  • Focus on the person’s feelings. Is there an unexpressed emotion attached to the question aside from the words themselves? Could they be trying to communicate something that is not in their current capacity to effectively verbalize?
  • Answer the question in different ways. Use written or visual cues in prominent locations and prompt your loved one to find the answer themselves.
  • After answering the question, direct your loved one’s attention to another activity. Engaging them in an activity they enjoy may be enough to keep them focused and their mind’s off of the repetitive question.

To conclude, witnessing a repetitive behavior such as repeatedly asking the same question in a short period of time can produce a host of complex emotions for family members and even caregivers who have not been trained in such occasions. It is very important to prepare yourself and, with the help of your support group, come up with a plan of action when faced with the task of providing the necessary support your loved one living with dementia needs.

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