What to do about a repetitive question
How to navigate an endless question loop
Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia’s affect the brain — which means they often cause problems with short-term memory. This can lead to repetitive behaviours, such as asking a repetitive question. Though your elderly loved one doesn’t mean to be annoying, it can get quite frustrating to answer them gently and patiently.
Why do dementia patients repeat the same questions over and over again?
Since a dementia sufferer’s brain is deteriorating, the individual’s ability to make sense of the world declines over time. Repeated questions can be broken down into three main reasons:
General Memory Loss:
- Dementia and Alzheimer’s directly affects memory. So unfortunately, they might just not remember that part of the conversation of the question’s response. If something important is happening seniors can often latch on to the important event coming up and want to know about it, but can’t remember details. For example; a family party that’s two weeks away might be very exciting for them. So they can remember the important event, which is the family party, but not necessarily who is going or where it is going to be held. These are questions that might get repeated because they are excited about the party.
- Not only may they be forgetting they’ve already asked a certain question, they may also be trying to express a specific concern. Oftentimes, repeating the same questions is a way to cope with the anxiety of not understanding their environment.
Trying to Communicate:
- A different part of dementia and Alzheimer’s is loss of communicative skills. This can often be a loss of words. So if a senior is repeating a question, that might be the only verbiage they can think of to communicate.
How to react to a repetitive question
Look for a reason:
Try to see if you can decipher the reasoning behind the repetitive question. For example, note if it happens at a certain time, around certain people, or in a certain setting. That way, you will know how to avoid the triggers. This can take time, and is often questions like “what time is it” or “when is dinner”. The trigger can be anything from the sun beginning to set, to being in a specific place at a certain time. Alzheimer patients can sometimes recognize routine subconsciously, so they may start asking questions at certain time depending on their environment.
Consider how they are feeling, not what they are asking:
If you focus on the emotion as opposed to the action, you may be able to pinpoint what it is that is causing stress. You may then be able to relieve it to stop the repetitive questions. If you notice them begin to get distressed while asking a question, try changing their environment or the activity they are doing and see if that helps. Their question could have nothing to do with what they are concerned about, that just might be the best way they know how to express it.
This one seems obvious, but remaining patient is key to keeping your loved one calm as well. Combining your response with soothing touch (like a hug or hand hold) may be all you need to do to alleviate what is bothering them. If this doesn’t work remember to keep your breathing slow and steady. If they see you breathing slowly it might remind them to breath more slowly and begin to calm down.
Keep your response short & direct:
Learn to deliver a brief and simple response, so it’s easier to respond to many times over. Repeating your answer to make sure it’s the same concise response is important. If they hear the same response each time it will calm them instead of agitate them. As well keep your response direct, answer the question as efficiently as possible before you try to distract them. Not answering their question before trying to distract them or change environment might agitate them more.
Distract with an activity:
Sometimes, distracting your loved one with an activity they enjoy – or a simple chore – helps with the incessant questions. Ask them to help you with laundry or hand them a puzzle to calm their uneasy mind.
The most important thing to remember is what state they are in, and try to console yourself with that fact. They are not asking the repetitive question to bother you, there is probably an underlying reason as to why this is happening. So focus on their surroundings and see if there are any slight changes you can make to either distract them or make them more comfortable. Always remember that you too deserve a break. So make sure to be with them as much as you can, but between questions it’s okay to take a moment to yourself as long as they are in a safe space. Go for a walk or into another room if you find your patience is running thin. It’s bound to happen to everyone if a repetitive question is asked one too many times.
Did you enjoy this article? Check out “Top Ten Activities for Seniors with Alzheimer’s or Dementia” next to see how you can keep your loved one active and occupied.
- Giving Care Team