As a dementia & Alzheimers caregiver, you may be wondering why your loved one does the same thing over an over again. This can be something like asking the same questions over and over, or cycling through repetitive behaviors. Tips and ideas for how to help with repetitive behaviors.
We Call It Cycling
If you are new to the world of dementia, you may be confused about why your loved one does the same thing over an over again. Your normal Mom disappears and this OCD stranger steps in.
In our house we call this “Mom is cycling again” when she starts with repetitive behaviors or questions.
The nice thing about giving it a name is that it takes the grumpiness away from the person doing it and puts it on the process, allowing us to be kinder to Mom!
We also time it and see how often it repeats. If mom is cycling around 20 minutes, she is a little anxious. At 5 minutes she is stressed and at 2 minutes she is getting ready to go into full on freak out.
When I am stressed it can be easy to think she does this ALL THE TIME, but in actuality, there usually is some cause like hunger, or stress, or having to leave the house or depression.
What Kinds of Repetitive Behaviors Might Dementia Repeat?
Here are some things they might do…
- Repeating questions
- Fussing with something
- Turning the TV channel to the wrong station
- Losing things
- Hiding things
- Chewing nails
- Pulling hair
- Rubbing arms
- Looking for wallet/car keys
There are literally a million different things they might do, those are some that my Mother in law has done from time time.
Why Are They Doing It?
Funny story, every time I take Mom to the doctor she fusses with her glasses on the way there. She bends the frames and asks me over and over again if they are straight.
At first I thought it was just annoying, but after a while I realized that is what she does when she is nervous. It gives her something to focus on beside the fear of seeing another doctor (we have seen a lot, and she generally doesn't remember why we are going to see them!)
On the way home, every time we are ready to turn into the subdivision she will say, “wow, it is always so much faster to come home than to go!”
This one makes me happy because I know that our home (we moved her in after a fall) is her home now and she feels safe headed back there.
If I had it to do over again in the early stages I would have kept a little notebook and recorded what she did. That would have allowed me to see the patterns of her behavior way sooner, and would have let me find compassion for her fear faster!
How Can You Make Them Stop Doing Repetitive Behaviors?
- Get all Zen about it and realize you can't make them stop doing anything. For real, try this one when you can first.
- If they are harming themselves, gently remind them to stop doing whatever they are doing.
- If they don't stop, try distracting them with a conversation or get them to do some other kind of activity.
- Check with their doctor to see if one of their medicines might be exasperating the behaviors.
- Take them somewhere less hectic, play calm music and try to make them feel safe, even if you are not in their normal environment.
Use humor if you can! I can always get a chuckle out my MIL if I say, “did you forget you were supposed to take your memory medicine?” HA! I KNOW, it is not that funny, but for us it is a way to make a little light of a horrible situation for everyone!
What Causes Repetitive Behaviors?
Stress & Anxiety
My Mom is all about the stress. If she is having trouble remembering things, if we are going to the doctor, if the kids go back to school or the kids come home for the summer, it can cause her to do the behaviors.
She also becomes confused easily and does them daily, like changing the channel on her remote and not being able to watch TV.
At first we all tried to show her how to do it (it takes about 6 steps and 2 remotes to make it work). After a while we realized that wouldn't work and now we just all take turns turning on her TV.
A New Environment
You hear a lot about loved ones pacing around nursing homes. Imagine if you found yourself locked up somewhere you didn't recognize, you might pace around anxiously too!
I KNOW, it is so frustrating trying to manage medicines for your loved ones. I spent about 3 months figuring out all the different ones she was on, who had prescribed them and then what the doses should be in all the bottles on her counter.
Come to find out no one was really overseeing all of her medications and making sure that they weren't interacting or that she still needed to take them.
Some medicines can cause anxiety or confusion, so if it isn't obvious why they are doing it, head on back into the doctor, explain what is going on and keep at it until you get some answers!
Free Resource :: Medicine List Printable
Repetitive Behavior In Dementia Wrapup
Okay, let's call a spade a spade, if you are reading this, your loved one is making you nuts repeating things, right?
Could be asking questions or rubbing her head or twisting her glasses for the millionth time and you are ready to lose your mind if you can't just make it stop (just me?)
And sometimes I lose it, I grumble at Mom and tell her she is going to break her glasses or rub all the hair off her head or I say you just asked that 2 minutes ago…
But none of that does any good. Her memory is shot and she is not doing it on purpose… sigh.
So if you can call it something (like I said we call it cycling and use the time between the cycles to see how stressed she is) then you take the burden off your loved one and put it on the behavior.
I found that all the resources say the same thing… but I did find a few with some practical nuggets to help!
- Repetitive Behavior and Alzheimer's – Health Day
- 5 Familiar (and Difficult) Behaviors of Alzheimer’s Patients – A Place For Mom
- Repetitive Behaviors in Frontotemporal Dementia: Compulsions or Impulsions? – NCBI (it is not OCD, it environmentally based… interesting!)