4 Ways to Respond When Someone with Alzheimer’s Keeps Repeating Questions

Alzheimer's repeating questions

People with Alzheimer’s may repeat things…a lot

Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias cause problems with short-term memory. This can lead to repetitive behaviors, like asking the same question over and over again.

Your older adult isn’t doing it on purpose to annoy you, they truly have no memory of asking the first or twenty-third time.

You might be able to answer patiently the first few times, but after hearing the same thing a dozen times, it’s natural to lose your temper. That’s why it’s important to arm yourself with these 4 kind techniques that stop the flow of questions before you get too frustrated.




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Why someone with Alzheimer’s is repeating questions

Repetitive behaviors are often caused by stress, anxiety, frustration, or fear. People with Alzheimer’s or dementia are often unsure of what’s happening, where they are, or what time or day it is. Those are pretty unsettling feelings.

Your senior isn’t repeating questions because they need the information. They’re asking because they’re feeling stressed or anxious and need reassurance.

 

4 ways to respond when someone with Alzheimer’s repeats questions

1. Respond to the emotions, not the words
When your older adult starts to repeat a question over and over, try to guess what feelings might be causing the behavior. If they might be feeling anxious, giving a brief hug or hand squeeze while calmly answering the question may soothe them enough to stop their need to keep asking.

2. Keep your answers brief
It’s tempting to answer a question from a person with Alzheimer’s the same way you’d answer anybody else. But the shorter and simpler your answer, the better. It saves you time and energy and reduces your exasperation when you have to repeat it five more times.

3. Distract with an activity
Sometimes the only way to get your senior with dementia to stop repeating a question is to distract them with something they enjoy. Maybe that means offering a snack or favorite beverage.

Or, you could ask them a simple question to get them thinking about something else, like “The sky is blue today, isn’t it nice?” Another idea is to ask them to help you with a simple chore they’re still able to do, like folding laundry.

4. Escape for a few minutes
It’s tough to keep your cool and not snap at someone when you’ve been asked the same question for the twelfth time. Everyone’s patience runs out at some point, especially if this isn’t the first time it’s happened today.

Sometimes you just need to leave the room for a few minutes. Go to the bathroom, get a quick breath of fresh air, or check your Facebook feed. By the time you come back, you’ll have had some time to cool off and will be better able to handle your older adult’s behavior with kindness.

 

Bottom line

It’s challenging to answer a question that’s repeated over and over again without snapping or letting the frustration show in your voice. Do your best to stay calm and use these 4 tips to respond in ways that are more likely to make the questions stop.

And if you do lose your temper, it’s because you’re human. Forgive yourself and take a brief time out to help you stay calm.

 

Recommended for you:
3 Ways to Respond When Someone with Alzheimer’s Says I Want to Go Home
How to Talk to Someone with Alzheimer’s: Use Short, Direct Sentences
Dealing with Difficult Alzheimer’s and Dementia Symptoms

 

By DailyCaring Editorial Team
Image: Healthy Debate


30 Comments

  • Reply August 18, 2017

    Linda

    My mother in law (almost wedding is tomorrow) has demnetia. I made the mistake of telling her ahead of time about her son and I upcoming nuptials. Now she keeps asking over and over (for over 4 hours) about what she to wear what about the animals, does she need to change etc….. I have done all of the above repeated but she wont stop. I cant stay away from her for to long because she will get into things. My wedding is tomorrow and I am exhasted. Her other son will take her for the night which I am grateful for. But this is just one day…we (my hubby to be and I)do this e eryday and are exhausted. I feel like I no longer have the tools to deal with her.

    • Reply August 19, 2017

      DailyCaring.com

      Congratulations on your wedding! I hope you had a lovely day ❤ The behaviors you mention are unfortunately common among people with dementia. The first step is to understand why they’re happening so you can better manage and reduce them. Because someone with dementia is no longer able to learn or adapt, we have to change the way we behave in order to minimize these types of behaviors.

      When someone has dementia, they can lose the ability to understand the passage of time. That’s why she keeps asking about the wedding and what she needs to do to prepare. Knowing that it’s tomorrow doesn’t mean anything to her. She is responding to the fact that there is something very important that she wants to be sure not to miss. In the future, it’s helpful to not talk about future events until you’re ready for the person to start acting upon it. For example, if the family is getting together for dinner next Wednesday, don’t tell your mother-in-law right now. On Wednesday evening, when its nearing time to leave for dinner, tell her that you’re all going to dinner together. That way, you can prompt her to use the bathroom and put on shoes/jacket, etc. so that you can leave the house. Telling her about it days beforehand is going to make her fixate on it, get anxious, and talk about it until it happens.

      Repetitive behaviors and rummaging (searching through things) are also common dementia behaviors. We’ve got more info and suggestions for how to handle them here:
      http://dailycaring.com/9-ways-to-manage-dementia-rummaging-behavior/
      http://dailycaring.com/4-ways-to-respond-when-someone-with-alzheimers-keeps-repeating-questions/

      It’s also helpful to learn about the stages of dementia and what symptoms you may expect to see — http://dailycaring.com/3-stages-of-dementia-what-to-expect/

      Getting her involved in activities that make her feel successful are a great way to help her feel good and keep her safely occupied. It can take some experimenting to find the right activities for her ability level and preferences, so we’ve got a lot of suggestions — http://dailycaring.com/tag/alzheimers-dementia-activities/

      We’ve got an extensive section of information about various dementia symptoms and suggestions for how to handle them — http://dailycaring.com/category/health-conditions/alzheimers-dementia/

      I’d also suggest contacting the Alzheimer’s Association to see if there are local resources or in-persona caregiver support groups. Call their 24/7 Helpline at 1-800-272-3900

      You may also find online caregiver support groups helpful. They’re a wonderful source of support and a great way to vent frustrations and get advice 24/7 from fellow caregivers who understand what you’re going through. Here are some of our favorite free, private Facebook groups, many are specifically for dementia caregivers — http://dailycaring.com/11-caregiver-support-groups-on-facebook-youll-want-to-join/

  • Reply June 20, 2017

    Susan

    I’m pretty sure my mother doesn’t have Alzheimer’s but still has some “annoying” behaviors, I’m sure due to her circumstances. She is 83, in a wheelchair or can walk with assistance using a walker. She used to be able to take care of the house and yard but is down to only cleaning the top of the stove as she is scared of falling again (she fell and broke her hip/femur getting out of bed to go to the bathroom at 3 in the morning – I think her legs had gone to sleep as she says there was no feeling in them). The rod they put in her leg is causing her to walk very crooked and causing pain. She lets us know every 10 minutes or so. She tells every one she can get to listen that she “hasn’t had her surgery yet” which makes me look bad – she is not getting any surgery that I know of. She gets agitated and angry at my kids all day long while I’m at work, and they are doing the best they can to keep the house and yard up (not to her liking though). It is challenging, and my relatives have called Adult protective services on us a few times because she tells them we are failing in her care, which is not true. Any suggestions you have would be helpful in how to deal with this.

    • Reply June 20, 2017

      DailyCaring.com

      I’m so sorry this is happening. Based on her behaviors, it sounds like your mom has experienced some cognitive impairment. You may want to have her doctor do a thorough examination to see if there is a treatable cause (like UTI) or if it could be caused by delirium or dementia. Her behavior could also be caused by medication side effects.

      Here are articles that explain what each of those things are:
      http://dailycaring.com/7-treatable-health-conditions-with-symptoms-similar-to-dementia/
      http://dailycaring.com/hospitalization-can-cause-delirium-in-seniors-know-the-signs/
      http://dailycaring.com/how-is-dementia-diagnosed-a-geriatrician-explains/
      http://dailycaring.com/medications-worsen-dementia-and-increase-dementia-risk-anticholinergics/

      It also sounds like her pain isn’t being managed well enough. That’s a big factor in behavior as well. When someone is in constant pain, they aren’t likely to be “themselves.” This is something you could talk to her doctor about. She may need different pain medications or physical therapy to rebuild necessary muscles.

      It might also be helpful for you and your kids to learn about handling dementia behaviors. Responding in ways we’re used to with people who don’t have cognitive issues probably isn’t working well. Here’s more information on responding to and reducing dementia behaviors: http://dailycaring.com/tag/difficult-behaviors/

      • Reply June 23, 2017

        Geri Brandon

        Hi Susan! 1st, as someone who is in the same boat, I’d encourage you to be kind to yourself today. See the sun, hear the birds, or just enjoy the sound of rain. I know it sounds hokey, but joy is ours to have.

        Having said that…the advice on UTIs is real, and no indication of lack of care. The Dr. can help with that, but to keep them at bay, you’ll have to keep Mom hydrated. Water does wonders! After 3 months, my Mom was off 4 meds, pressure normalized, mood much more mellow. Talk to her Dr. about a combo of Calcium/magnesium with electrolytes, omega3, and vitamin D3, with lots of fluids. Most Drs. are quick to write perscriptions [maybe that’s why they call it Medicine], but overlook the simplest possibilities of nutrition and hydration.
        There may be more diapers, but you can reduce the nigh time bathroom visits by getting the fluids in earlier in the day, and use the electrolyte frozen pops as a P.M. treat. My Mom is almost 93, and her Drs. are bragging about her to their patients 30 years her junior.

        On her “pain”, try to imagine how it feels to not be in control anymore, to have the world passing you by, to have to call someone to get attention. More than likely, Mom knows who “butters her bread”, and wouldn’t trade you for the world; and those “relatives” who rush to call someone miss the point that what she really wants is for them to invest sometime with her. You, like me, could use the break! When they won’t give you one, give yourself permission to take it!

        Please give your kids extra hugs for their help, it will be hard for them not to hug you back. I know it’s hard to cuddle a porcupine, but give your Mom an extra kiss. And those “relatives”, thank them for all their help! They’ll get the message, and you’ll get a laugh!

        As for me..I’ll leave the clinical to the clinicians. After my Dad’s three strokes, and the 20 years of Alzheimer’s, and now Mom..I have become an expert in surrender, and have a Masters in self affirmation. Solutions to challenges are daily victories-counted as blessings. I try to keep myself so I like what I see in the mirror, and give myself a “thumbs up”, an “atta girl!”, or a “job well done”.

        This job is like none you’ve ever had. It will take a ton of love, and a
        grain of salt. Over time, she may forget lots of things, but she will always remember she’s the “MOM”. Above all, respect yourself for the “awsome girl” you are, because you really care! Love, G

        • Reply June 23, 2017

          DailyCaring.com

          Thank you Geri for sharing such wonderful tips with Susan (and our community)! Your kindness, compassion, and experience really shine through 💜💜

  • Reply April 29, 2017

    Fanie Naude

    I am a firstimer with no experience.Is there an y medication on the market to slow down deterioration of the brain

    • Reply April 29, 2017

      DailyCaring

      It’s hard to say. There are currently no cures for any dementia. Some treatments may improve symptoms or slow the progression of cognitive decline. But the effectiveness depends on the person and on the type of dementia they have. Different medications could be used for different types of dementia, but medication may not be available for all types. This article about Alzheimer’s medications has more information specifically about Alzheimer’s — http://dailycaring.com/5-fda-approved-medications-for-alzheimers-treatment/

  • Reply January 23, 2017

    Sheila Roney

    My husband repeats the same thing, sometimes every minute. “Can I have something to eat?” “Can I have some pop?” I know it isn’t because he’s hungry or thirsty, because he will ask this while he’s eating or drinking. What is the best way to respond? Tell him he just ate or he’s eating now. A simple yes or no. Soon. Or something completely unrelated, like I love you or Are you warm enough.

    • Reply January 23, 2017

      DailyCaring

      I’m sorry that you’re going through this, it can’t be easy. You may need to test out different responses to see how effective they are. For example, you could try letting him know that he just ate and see what happens. If that works, great! It’s one that you can add to your collection of responses. Keep in mind that one type of response won’t work every time so it’s good to have many options to use.

      You could also try something like asking him about what he’s thinking of eating, talking about it a little bit, and then gradually leading the conversation to a different topic. Or if it’s a drink, talk about how a soda is refreshing and have some conversation about it before subtly changing the subject (like soda –> drinking soda at a baseball game –> baseball games in general). The idea is to get his mind away from fixating on that one idea. Hugs and kind, loving words are always great things to try too 🙂

      Sometimes, it’s possible that he could actually be asking to go to the bathroom when he asks for food or drink, sometimes the words can get scrambled as they make their way from the brain to the mouth. You could say “Sure, I’ll get you something to eat. Let’s go to the bathroom first.” Or, you could make a simple chart for the daily meals that you can mark with a big X after he eats. Having a visual cue that he’s already eaten could help.

      Everybody is different, so it takes some experimenting to find out which methods will work best with your husband.

  • Reply January 2, 2017

    Audra

    My mother also is in the setting stages and I find that putting on her favorite movie helps, and also trying to offer assurance through reinforcement and encouragement of the repetitive behavior ….bathroom, eating, ECT. Are signs of the demenishing ability to perform these functions. And realizing this early changes the scope of assistance and guidance for your loved one and you. Hopefully making a more pleasant experience for everyone involved. Try to gather as much comparative information,

    • Reply January 3, 2017

      DailyCaring

      Thanks for sharing Audra! These are great tips.

  • Reply November 11, 2016

    Paula

    I also use the pictures on my phone to have conversations with my mom. It works very well.

    • Reply November 11, 2016

      DailyCaring

      That’s a great way to respond and help her focus on other things!

  • Reply November 8, 2016

    Al Cat

    My life is a messed up place . My wife can’t stop reaping things . Ind I can’t stop drinking . All cat

    • Reply November 9, 2016

      DailyCaring

      I’m so sorry to hear this. Please know that she’s not doing it on purpose. Her brain is no longer able to function normally and is causing her to repeat things. It’s a frustrating behavior, but I hope these suggestions can help you cope a little bit. Sometimes, it might help to just leave the room for a bit. That gives you a chance to reset and to stop hearing the questions for a bit. For more support, please contact the Alzheimer’s Association through their 24/7 Helpline at 1-800-272-3900.

      Drinking may bring some very temporary relief, but in the long term, please try different methods of coping with the difficult behaviors caused by dementia. Support groups are a fantastic way to vent frustrations and get tips and advice from others in similar situation. Alzheimer’s Association should have support groups in your area. If it’s tough to get to an in-person group, I highly recommend the Memory People Closed Group on Facebook. The group is completely private and wonderfully supportive. Get more info and find out how to join here — http://dailycaring.com/alzheimers-support-group-on-facebook-memory-people/

      • Reply January 8, 2017

        Al Cat

        I go in the garage and she follows me . bathroom bastment . I’m hanging on . trying to understand

        • Reply January 9, 2017

          DailyCaring

          Hi Al — Having your older adult “shadow” is an understandably frustrating situation. This is a common behavior and is usually caused by anxiety or fear. Because their world has become so confusing, they cling to the one thing that makes them feel safe — you. But of course, you need space and time for yourself. We’ve written an article with some helpful tips about managing shadowing behavior. See it here — http://dailycaring.com/alzheimers-and-fear-of-being-alone-5-ways-for-caregivers-to-cope/

    • Reply December 23, 2016

      Al Cat

      Thank you . I stopped drinking 40 days now got in trouble at work . in cousling

      • Reply December 23, 2016

        DailyCaring

        I’m so glad you’re getting some help and support <3 This is a tough situation and you're doing great.

  • Reply November 7, 2016

    Murray Nitchke

    As much as these comments sound helpful, I have to deal with my wife’s dementia which includes the constant questions, fears,etc. She paces all over the house asking where’s my husband? Of course I am usually in the same room and she doesn’t even see me, recognize me, until I ask her to look at me. Most of her Q’s then take the form of: I want to go home, please help me, what do I do now?,I want to leave, take me home, where are my people? And on and on and on all day every day.

    • Reply November 7, 2016

      DailyCaring

      Hi Murray — I’m sorry to hear about your wife’s fears and the challenges you face in managing them. Dementia can be a very frightening experience for the person who has it. This causes behavior that’s frustrating to people close to them. It’s possible that your wife needs more reassurance to feel safe and secure. We’ve got an article that gives suggestions on what to say when someone repeatedly asks to go home — http://dailycaring.com/3-ways-to-respond-when-someone-with-alzheimers-says-i-want-to-go-home/

  • Reply September 4, 2016

    Gillian

    I find it helpful if I respond to the question as if it the first time I have heard it.

    • Reply September 4, 2016

      Connie Chow

      That’s great that you’re able to do that! I’m sure your senior feels good about it <3

  • Reply March 2, 2016

    Ginny

    When my mom had Alzhimers, I felt I grew as a person. As she was changing, I needed to as well. I miss even those hard days. It was a sweet time of loving

    • Reply March 2, 2016

      Connie Chow

      Hi Ginny, thank you for sharing such a lovely story! I agree that we definitely change and grow when we care for another person. Best, Connie

  • Reply January 25, 2016

    Marjorie Haas, LCSW

    Another idea behind the ‘repetitive questions’ and repetitive stories is that people with memory loss are looking for relationship through conversation. They have few areas of interest that they remember, so they lock onto one and engage their caregiver by sticking to it. Engage in a conversation that you (the caregiver) might enjoy and that will allow escape and distraction. I have found endless areas on conversational engagement with pictures on my phone.

    • Reply January 25, 2016

      Connie Chow

      That makes so much sense! Thank you Marjorie, this is a helpful tip. Looking at favorite photos together is a wonderful activity.

  • Reply December 30, 2015

    Bill Hutchens

    Good ideas -many thanks!

    • Reply December 30, 2015

      Connie Chow

      Thank you, Bill! Glad these were helpful!

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