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


54 Comments

  • Reply September 14, 2019

    Wendy Petersen

    My mom passed away 3 years ago, after many years of living with dementia. The repeating was the hardest thing I had to deal with. Most things I could manage, but even though I knew she couldn’t remember asking, it tried my patience on many occasions. I wish there had been somewhere like this when I was going through it. I think it is one of the loneliest and cruelest of diseases, especially for the caretakers. Thank you for what you are doing to help those out there dealing with these problems.

    • Reply September 14, 2019

      DailyCaring

      We’re so sorry for your loss 🙁 It’s wonderful that you were able to take such great care of your mom 💜

  • Reply June 14, 2019

    Anonymous

    Of course the old are boring as we do not go to fun places due to a disability . Our friends too are past it, Most of them are in a worse place . If one happens to be more with it theirs none to exchange with ‘ If theirs travelling involved Yes one has been there and done that but again its our memories that are no longer relevant. Our yesterday is at a standstill. One can feel the attention of the other person shutting down as its all been heard before. Yes I know that this is not the reply one wants but Ce la vie

  • Reply April 27, 2019

    Kathleen Schreiber

    I have tried every thing to get my mom to shower. She has from what I’ve read 6th level alzheimers, and I’ve said, lets shower so we can go shopping, anything to get her in. We have remodeled the bathroom in warm colors, leave towels out she knows, and even te same soap. She is constantly yelling at me and I have the patience of a saint. I do however have my limits. Please any ideas?

    • Reply July 17, 2019

      DailyCaring

      I’m so sorry this has been such a challenge. It sounds like you’ve tried many of the things we often recommend.

      Another thing you could try is to hire someone to help her bathe. Some people feel more comfortable having a “stranger” help them rather than a family member.

      And just in case there are additional ideas you may not have tried yet, check out our article about bathing: 7 Tips to Get Someone with Alzheimer’s to Take a Bath https://dailycaring.com/7-tips-to-get-someone-with-alzheimers-to-take-a-bath/

  • Reply March 8, 2019

    me

    hello
    dad’s the same way; he asks the same questions i.e. where’s my (late) mother over and over and over again, driving me nuts!! i keep on telling him that she’ll be back shortly but ignores me and repeats it. at least thrice he became violent and threatened to hit me as my reply wasn’t to his liking and late last night he did exactly that. i really am tempted to take him to an old folks home as all the meds and or sedatives he took didn’t do him any good; in fact his situation worsened and his mania increased.
    any suggestions??

  • Reply November 28, 2018

    Sarah

    Hello. I have the feeling my mother has a form of dimentia (has yet to be tested so I just suspect); she repeats the same stories in a short period of time and I just let her do so knowing it brings her happiness. However she also harps on the same topic such as where my daughter has gone to horse camp and insists it is the best (it is expensive and a good two days away). I am looking for horse camps closer to me but she will not let it go. This is not the first time she has done this; last summer she had the same behaviour with a small stuffy and a toothbrush. She kept harping on it and eventually we came by and got them. Turned out she was upset with my husband as they have different political views and she chose to harp on something small.

    Is there anything I can do to help her get through this? She is coming for Christmas with my sister and I am truly afraid of blowups. Can someone please write an article? Thanks!

    • Reply December 2, 2018

      DailyCaring

      I’m sorry this is happening. It can definitely be tough, especially during family gatherings. It sounds like a good way to handle her behavior is to validate her feelings, distract, and redirect to a more pleasant topic or activity.

      The suggestions in the article above may be helpful to redirect the conversation away from topics you’d rather not discuss. It’s not really about discussing the facts of the situation and convincing her of your logic. That typically doesn’t work with someone who has dementia.

      Here are some additional articles that might be helpful:
      — Answer 3 Tough Questions from Seniors with Alzheimer’s https://dailycaring.com/answer-tough-questions-from-seniors-with-alzheimers-expert-advice/
      — 7 Ways to Respond to Mean Dementia Behavior https://dailycaring.com/7-ways-to-respond-to-mean-dementia-behavior/
      — Our section on Alzheimer’s & Dementia Challenging Behavior https://dailycaring.com/tag/challenging-dementia-behaviors/

    • Reply January 15, 2019

      Colleen

      My sister is age 67, and has been diagnosed with the catch-all dementia. She has had recurrent Infections associated acute interstitial nephritis; and this time she contracted Klebsiella which led to sepsis. She was discharged from the hospital to a skilled transitional care facility. I went with her to her post hospital primary care visit. Her PCP, I felt was out of line. He first conveyed he did not know why she was there and I told him it was for a post hospital stay follow up. He finally found her discharge summary and we went over her treatment plan. He stated that my sister had dementia and that he could discuss her treatment plan with her but in a few minutes she would not remember what was discussed. He the looked at her and stated, “you still have your own power of attorney, do you want to just stop your treatment at this point?” I felt that was a completely oxymoron on his part. How could even think that was legal. He just stated that she would remember when he discussed with her and yet he was wanting her to sign a document that would basically enable her to die because he obviously felt her life was not important.

      • Reply January 15, 2019

        DailyCaring

        I’m so sorry to hear this! What your sister’s doctor has said sounds very inappropriate and doesn’t give your sister the quality of medical care she needs. I would strongly urge you to help your sister find a different doctor, preferably one who has experience with patients who have dementia. If there are any in your area, a geriatric doctor (geriatrician) may be helpful since they’re more likely to have experience with dementia or other cognitive issues.

        I’d also strongly suggest that you think about her essential legal documents, like financial and medical powers or attorney, advanced directive (living will), trust or estate plan, etc. If your sister isn’t able to manage her own financial, medical, and legal decisions, she’ll need help from a trusted person — either you or another trusted person.

  • Reply October 5, 2018

    Molly Grobler

    A very short version of my problem.
    My mother keep on asking me do I know where her mother’s grave is I will tell her and then she will say she wants to go there to put flowers on and why did I not tell her that she died and then she want to go there – she will walk if I will not take her. She cries each and every time we have this questions numerous times>> It is in another town, 6 hours from where we are now!!! . She was at the funeral, she knows where the grave was but cant remember anything. I am about to loose it completely. The other continues questions does not bother me that much but his grave story is to much for me to handle!!!!!!
    Molly Grobler, South Africa

    • Reply October 7, 2018

      DailyCaring

      This is definitely a tough situation and happens often with people who have Alzheimer’s or dementia. Your mother may or may not mean what she’s saying literally. Sometimes, people with dementia have trouble communicating and you need to play detective a bit to get to the root of what they’re trying to tell you. Sometimes, it’s more about the emotion rather than the exact words.

      When she brings up the topic, instead of directly answering her question, you may want to try asking her open-ended questions about her mother. Doing this helps to start a conversation. During this conversation, you may find that what she’s really asking for is additional comfort or that she wants to recall some pleasant memories of her mother. For example, you could ask things like “”tell me about your mother”” or “”what did you and your mother used to do together.”” You could bring out a photo book and let her look at photos of her and her mother and encourage her to talk about how she feels or share whatever memories happen to come up.

      There’s no perfect answer and nothing that will work 100% of the time, but what’s important is to try different responses to see what works best.

      We’ve also got an article about answering frequently repeated questions that may help reduce frustrations — https://dailycaring.com/4-ways-to-respond-when-someone-with-alzheimers-keeps-repeating-questions/

  • Reply September 28, 2018

    H. Chiles

    My 92 y/o father was diagnosed with dementia 3 years ago and is now wheelchair bound. He has become hateful and mean and curses to those who are working to help him in his facility. He has also developed unusual habits of not wanting to change clothes after a few days, also hording toilet paper and paper napkins. How do I handle this?

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