One of the most annoying Alzheimer and dementia symptoms is your loved one asking repetitive questions. Here are 5 helpful ways we have found to keep our sanity as a family and make Mom feel less anxious!
In our house we call the repetitive questions Cycling, as in “Mom's cycling at 20 minutes” or “Mom's cycling every 5 minutes now”. This is a great tip for having a shorthand version of what is going on!
Why do Alzheimer's and Dementia patients repeat themselves?
I KNOW, sometimes it can feel like the questions come for days on end, but really when you step back it is often just around stressful times. For example, Mom has a doctor's appointment today so yesterday she was cycling about an hour at a time, asking who she was going to see and when we were going about every hour.
Today I know that will ramp up to about every 20 minutes in the morning until reaching a crescendo a couple of hours before when it will be every 5 minutes as she gets more and more nervous about going.
That said, for you whose loved ones ask questions all day, every day, these solutions might give you a wee bit of respite (and I feel your pain!)
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5 Tips & Ideas For How To Handle Repetitive Questions
These are the solutions we have found for when Mom keeps repeating questions. We are not medical professionals, only caregivers, so if something doesn't seem right to you, check with your doctor before trying it on your LO.
Live in their now
This one may have been the hardest one for our kids (11 and 14 years old) to understand. Our Mom is stuck in about 2012 when we lived in Colorado and she lived in our basement. She now lives in our back bedroom in a Florida house with no basement.
Every day she asks questions related to that time, like “are you going to bring the cat down with me” or “why is the dog up here with you?” Now your loved one might not have that specific problem, but I have heard of people getting stuck when their kids were little or when they had a certain job or car.
A “normal” response would be to remind her that she lives in the back room now, but that doesn't make any sense to her worldview now and just serves as a reminder that she is confused.
So we answer her as if we all live there with her. Something like, “the kids brought her up earlier” or “we need to get a new litter box before we bring the cat down”.
It is weird, sometimes she functions well in the space, knowing that the back bedroom is hers without understanding it is spatially on the same floor now and sometimes she goes wandering around the house looking for a different bathroom, even though hers in the back has the grab bars and wipes to help with her UTIs (urinary tract infections).
Because Alzheimers and Dementia patients have lost some memory function, just reminding them that the world is different than they think will do no good!
Related Post :: 23 Fun Ways To Battle Dementia and Alzheimers Caregiver Burnout
Okay, here is another one that we struggled with early on, but now we feel better after asking our son's counselor about it!
Sometimes we out and out lie… there I said it!
Instead of trying to get Mom to understand that she shouldn't buy a grill for her bedroom or that she can't drive her car anymore, we just lie and say she already ordered the grill or that the car is in the shop.
I have heard of people lying about loved ones who have died, or about it being a weekend so they don't have to go to work.
So first off, here is what our professional said when I asked about lying (it bothered my son that we were outright lying to Grandma). Hector said because Grandma has a disease, it is kinder to lie and not upset her. We should think about it as “going along” with what she is feeling rather than trying to explain things she doesn't understand.
Second off, lying is good when it will cause your loved one less pain or grief. Explaining that her sisters are dead or that she can't live alone anymore is more hurtful than just getting through this 20 minutes until she resets and would have to hear about it all over again for the “first time”.
As a caregiver, I lie because it is easier and faster. Lying is easier than going into a long drawn out explanation that just upsets Mom and which she will not remember in 20 minutes anyways!
Additional Post :: Should You Lie To Your Dementia or Alzheimers Loved One?
Did you ever get something stuck in your head and just couldn't stop worrying about it? It seems to me that must be what it feels like to be Mom.
She has a question stuck in her head and just can't stop thinking about it!
What works for us sometimes is to distract her with something that is super normal for her. For example, we might say that she needs to get new compression socks on for her high blood pressure (she hates changing them but it is distracting for sure!)
Or we will say that her little dog needs to go outside (generally we will take him out), the distraction factor will make her jump up and forget to ask the same questions over an over!
You might want to bring them an Ensure or ginger ale or a new magazine to thumb through.
Make a whiteboard
We thought of this one all by ourselves, but then found out it is an “official” thing to do!
Every morning my husband will write her a whiteboard detailing everything that is going on for the day. We started this when she was in the nursing home for a couple of weeks and have continued it since she got home!
Having everything written down on the whiteboard at least cuts off a little of the questions because she can look over and see what is going on.
On a “normal” day we will list things like:
- Doctors appointments
- When to do exercises / go for a walk
- Take a shower / change clothes
- Remember to use wipes in the bathroom
- What's for dinner
- Where the kids will be and when they are coming home
Does it stop all the questions? NOPE! But it does make them a little less and we do like the lady in the video does and show her the board each time.
Show them pictures
I take pictures of most things that we do so that I can pull them up on my phone and show her.
For example, her new doctor was a cause for anxiety (we moved her an hour away from her old home so we needed new primary care doctor). So I took a picture of the entryway to the office, the front desk girl and the doctor so that I could show Mom the pictures.
When she asks about the doctor, I can pull up pictures of the office and it seems to stick more than just saying we are going to see Dr. M.
This one works okay for us when she wants to look, but sometimes Mom just doesn't want to see them. For example, she has forgotten the 3 weeks she was in the hospital and nursing home and doesn't want to see pictures of that time.
BONUS – A fancy clock!
I haven't gotten this one yet, but I think it super cool and might work a treat… a fancy clock that shows the day, date and time! Whoo whoo!
This seems like it might be super good for grounding Mom more in this year! She spends lots of cycles worrying about the time and this might just stick if she gets in the habit of using it!
Additional Resource about repetition & repeating behaviors – source alz.org
What If You Lose It?
I think I should have this section in every post I write about being an Alzheimer and Dementia caregiver! What if you snap at your loved one for asking TOO DAMN MANY QUESTIONS?
Oh my, I sound all cool and calm in this post, like I just have these 5 tips I try and magically Mom stops asking the same questions over and over again… but alas, that is not so all the time.
Just like you I get frustrated and want to scream and pull my hair out and sometimes, not often but sometimes, I snap mean words at her. And then feel awful!
I KNOW it is the disease not Mom, but everyone loses it from time to time.
So give yourself some grace, vow to do better next time and the best part….
she probably won't remember it for very long! I KNOW, that is horrible to say, but we have make groundhog day memory loss work for us sometimes too!