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


24 Comments

  • 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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