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!