Dec 3, 2013

What to Do When Your Loved One Asks You the Same Question Over and Over

Well, that was a lucid conversation on her part. But the interesting thing is that she immediately asked me the same four questions - word for word – three more times.

By +Marie Marley
+Alzheimer's Reading Room

 What to Do When Your Loved One Asks You the Same Question Over and Over


I volunteer to visit three ladies with Alzheimer’s at a local memory care facility.

One day I was visiting one who loved Elvis - we’ll call her Nancy. So I took an Elvis CD and a portable CD player along to my first visit with her.

After I played a couple of songs, Nancy asked me, “What’s that machine?”

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What to Do When Your Loved One Asks You the Same Question Over and Over

“It’s a CD player,” I answered.

“Where did you get it?” she asked.

“At Radio Shack,” I said.
“How much did it cost?” she asked.

“Around $50,” I answered.
“Do other people have one?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

Well, that was a lucid conversation on her part. But the interesting thing is that she immediately asked me the same four questions - word for word – three more times. Each time I gave her the same exact answers.

Many people with Alzheimer’s keep asking you the same question over and over. This can be very annoying – to say the least.

But if we try to find a way to stop them from doing it we will be very disappointed. They will not stop it. They cannot stop it.

As others have written here on the Alzheimer’s Reading Room, it’s important to understand the reason for the repeated questions.

It’s simply because they instantly forget that they just asked us the question (and what we answered). So each time they ask it’s as though it’s the first time they have ask us. And most likely it’s a question they feel they really need an answer to.

Had I expected Jean to be “normal,” I would have become irritated. But since I understood that she couldn’t help repeating all those questions, I just relaxed and patiently answered each one over and over.

So then I started to think about other various ways to deal with this issue. The first would be to simply and patiently answer each question every time it’s asked, as I did in this example.

Another solution would be to answer and then change the subject, although the person may soon return to the questions they’ve been asking.

Still another would be to make a sort of game out of it for yourself by trying to find a slightly different answer each time so it becomes a creative endeavor for you.

I once spoke about Alzheimer’s caregiving at a memory facility support group. There was a man who was distressed because his mother kept asking him at every visit where her husband (who was deceased) was.

He said that he always told her that her husband had passed away, but that she kept repeating that question anyway.

He asked me if he should show her the death certificate. This represented his attempt to make his mother “normal” rather than to understand why she kept repeating the question about her husband.

“That’s fine,” I answered. “But be prepared – she’ll forget it after 5 minutes and start asking you where her husband is again. You might have more luck if you tell her something like, ‘He is away for his job’ or ‘he’ll be back soon.’ Then try to change the subject.”

“But be prepared for her to keep asking you. She desperately needs to know where her husband is.”

My primary advice in this type of situation is to feel empathy for your loved one who can’t remember the answer to what must be for him or her a critical question. When you feel empathic I can bet your irritation will vanish.

Try it and see.

Does anyone have any other ways to deal with repeated questions?

*Marie Marley, PhD, is the award award winning author of, Come Back Early Today: A Story of Love, Alzheimer’s and Joy. You can visit Marie’s website which has a wealth of advice for Alzheimer’s caregivers at ComeBackEarlyToday.

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