How to Respond When Someone Asks the Same Question Over and Over Again

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When a person who is living with dementia repeats the same question over and over again, it is normal for care partners to struggle to remain calm and not get frustrated. Being asked the same thing repeatedly can and will be unnerving for most. To help you understand why a person living with dementia (PLwD) might be doing this and how you can help, we’ve assembled a few tips for you below that we use here at Positive Approach to Care:

The first thing to keep in mind is that when someone living with dementia asks the same question over and over again, you don’t want to give the same answer back over and over again. While you might hope they’ll understand and keep the information when you repeat the same thing for the third or fifth time, you have to realize that giving them the identical response will not help them remember what you said.

Always consider that if a PLwD is asking the same question, there probably is a reason for it. Either they didn’t understand what you said, or there is something else going on in their brain that’s making them want to ask again. If you want to avoid tiring out quickly, then you will have to find a way to shift the conversation.

In a normal brain, we can respond in a socially graceful manner when someone asks us something that we miss or don’t understand. With some ability, we’re likely to say something like: I’m so sorry, excuse me, but I didn’t quite get what you said. Would you mind repeating that? But when a person is living with dementia, they might struggle asking that same thing.

Another reason a person living with dementia may be repeating details back, is that their brain is having trouble holding onto it. So in an effort to get the information to stick, they might be asking the same question in a different way, or they might be actually repeating the information back to themselves in hopes they’ll be able to comprehend and hold on to it.

One strategy that can shift this is that after you say something, stop for a moment, and make sure to listen to the PLwD speaking. This way, when you’re having a conversation, the person on the other end has the opportunity to repeat what you said, and then add a question mark at the end to make sure you’re both on the same page. As an example, the conversation could look something like this:

  • PLwD: What time are we going to the doctor?
  • Care Partner: You’re wanting to know what time we’re going to the doctor? (Pause)
  • PLwD: Yeah
  • Care Partner: We are going to the doctor at 3pm

Also realize that if the PLwD were to ask What time are we getting together for that thing next week?, they might actually be trying to figure out what that thing is.

Asking for the time instead of what the thing is about, is likely less embarrassing to them, but isn’t the information they were actually seeking. That is why it is so important for us to change how we go about helping, as they’re struggling to get data in their brain. And they’re trying, and they can say something, but you have to remember that just because they repeat it, that doesn’t mean they have it cemented where it belongs.

 As a care partner, it can be very challenging to adapt your automatic responses and way of communicating, which you’ve been using your whole life. To do this and do it well, we really have to learn a whole new behavior of our own in response to their new behavior. And guess who has to rehearse this a lot to get it right? Guess who has to practice it over and over? We do, because the PLwD is already doing the best they can.

And if you take the time to practice and acquire these new skills, you’ll be able to truly help your PLwD understand what you’re saying, and reduce your own stress in the process. To help you do that, click here to join us for the LIVE webinar with Teepa Snow on this very topic on March 27, 2019!

13 Comments on “How to Respond When Someone Asks the Same Question Over and Over Again”

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    Thank you for offering these free webinars! I’m finding them very helpful as my 85 year old mother is living with mild dementia.

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    I call this the “broken record” in my book, “Blue, Baseball, Virginia-The Journey of an Alzheimer’s Patient and Caregiver. A Journey of Humor, Help, and Hope!”
    I’d love to send you a free copy of it! To ANYONE dealing with dementia or caregiving. Just DM me with your name and address! We can use all the help we can get.

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    For my Grandma, repeated questions told me what she was focused on our worried about. She would often ask the same questions about the kids or other family members so I knew she was thinking about them… I would then get pictures from my phone of them or find another way to give more details. This almost always resulted in her relaxing and the two of us having a very positive interaction.

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    Ok, I get this for relevant questions but what about questions that are from events or people in the past? i.e… I’m so worried about your dad, why hasn’t he come back from fishing, why hasn’t he called. Which comes even tho her husband died afew years ago. How do we answer those type of questions?

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      Hi CJ- it is not unusual for a person living with dementia to ask a question referring to person who has died, but thinking about them as though they are still living. A bit more challenging to answer.

      While no one answer works for everyone, one way to answer might look like this:

      PLwD: I’m worried about your dad – why hasn’t he come back from fishing?
      Care Partner: Ahhh, so you’re worried about Dad, are you?
      PLwD: Well, yes. That’s what I said. He has been gone for a long time.
      Care Partner: He has been gone for long time, hasn’t he? Well you know Dad, he does that sometimes. He knows what he is doing though. And you know what they say, “a watched pot never boils.” Let’s go do something (pick something she likes to do), and I’ll make a few phone calls if need be.

      Ideally, you then go to a different place/room and shift to an activity she enjoys. The rationale for this response – sometimes, reminding a person that her loved one is dead might be like she is hearing it for the first time, thus creating extreme distress. If that is the case, a response similar to the above may work. Shifting to a new location may remove a visual cue that could have triggered the thought, and involving her in an activity she likes may meet an emotional need that could also be a contributing factor.

      I hope this helps!

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    Excellent advice. My challenge is figuring out what she means because the words are not there. I can usually “read” the clues. Either what she means sounds like the word she says or it relates to the word in a shared memory.
    We just enjoyed a snappy sliced bettygrable (apple)

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    When Dad asks the same question over and over again, we write the answer on a card. Visual prompts and cues seem to help him right now. Instead of asking us the same question over and over again, now he keeps reading the card we gave him. It seems to help lesson his anxiety and frustration. Eventually he moves onto something else. Whatever works….

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    I also think a question might be repeated is that the memory is so short that the person honestly does not remember asking the 1st or 10th time. My way of responding is to answer differently for a few times, but then as I answer for one of those times, get some physical activity going, like, “let’s go get some tea and a cookie while we talk about this”. distraction is a helpful way for me to avoid getting my tone of voice go negative or irritated as I answer AGAIN!

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    I don’t know how to respond to false accusations, and paranoia. It is escalating and is focused directly and at me and my husband, the one’s who take care of her

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    My wife keeps asking when her husband is coming back. He has never been gone this long before. PS: I am her husband but in her mind I’m just the nice guy taking care of her. How should I respond?

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      Hi RP,
      So your wife doesn’t recognize you as her husband, and is asking you for him. Hmmm – another tricky variation to this theme of asking the same question over and over. I am wondering – does she ever recognize you as her husband, or does this fluctuate from time to time?

      Either way, here is one strategy:

      PLwD: When is my husband coming back?
      Husband: So you are wondering about you husband, and when he is coming back?
      PLwD: Yes – do you know?
      Husband: That’s a good question. You know, I don’t know. But, while we’re waiting, let’s go do {something – fill in something she likes to do}, or, I could use your help with something …

      If this is episodic, she may recognize you later on in the day, or you might walk out of the room, change something like your shirt, and approach her like you just came in from being out.

      If it is not episodic – meaning she always thinks you are the nice guy who is taking care of her, but you aren’t her husband – continuing to be that nice guy and engaging with her in things that she enjoys – may be the thing that works.

      Does this help?

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