May 31, 2018

What If Your Loved One Keeps Telling You the Same Stories Over and Over?

If I wanted her to be “normal” I might have told her she’d told that story the last time and that we should talk about something else.

Marie Marley is an award winning author and Alzheimer's expert.

By Marie Marley
Alzheimer's Reading Room

My last article was about what to do if your loved one keeps asking you the same questions over and over.

Today I’m writing about what to do if the person keeps telling you the same story repeatedly.

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

During a visit with one of them – we’ll call her Ruth - she told me a long story about how during World War II, the army used to arrange for young ladies to visit a nearby base on Friday nights to dance with the soldiers. She was one of the girls.

All the details she told me were very clear in her mind (although she didn’t remember what she’d had for lunch or even if she’d had lunch).

She said the army made sure all the girls had “good reputations” and didn’t do anything risqué during the visits.

She mentioned that most of the soldiers didn’t know how to dance well but just stomped out a “two step.”

She also told me about her husband’s deficient dancing. She said he had no sense of rhythm and that this drove her crazy.

It was an interesting story. But the thing was that she told me the same story the next time I visited her and, in fact, every time I see her.

This could be annoying.

If I wanted her to be “normal” I might have told her she’d told that story the last time and that we should talk about something else.

But nothing will ever make this lady “normal” so I had to reframe the situation.

Since she told me about her visits to the base every time I saw her I realized this event must have been very important in her life.

I further realized that she repeated the story because she didn’t remember she’d told me about it before. For her, each time she told me was like the first time she’d ever told me about it.

So I decided to respond each time as though it was the first time I’d heard it.

I listened patiently, made responsive comments at the right times and asked questions (to which I knew the answers from previous times) to help her remember all the details.

One day I realized that although she was telling me about the same events, she would often vary her narration slightly. I started listening for these variations, some of which were rather amusing.

For example, once she added that her husband was so bad on the dance floor he must have learned to dance in a barn!

Another time she told me that when the girls arrived the soldiers looked them up and down as though they were shopping!

These details and others like them made me laugh out loud and she laughed heartily, too.

I learned not to be annoyed by her incessant repetition, but rather to use it as a basis for our conversations.

It was a great way to enrich our visits.

I began to actually look forward to the “dancing” story, which she so loved telling me.

The lesson here is that if we can step into the world of people with Alzheimer’s we can truly enjoy being with them.

It takes so little to entertain them. If they are still able to converse with you, just ask them to tell you a favorite story from their past – even if you’ve already heard it a dozen times.

And finally, remember that it isn’t always the content of a conversation that matters. Sometimes it’s just how much you enjoy talking together whether the stories you’re told are new ones or old ones

Does anyone have additional approaches to repeated stories?

*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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Publisher Alzheimer's Reading Room
Author Marie Marley
December 11, 2013
Title: What If Your Loved One Keeps Telling You the Same Stories Over and Over?

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