How to Deal with Repeating Conversations of a Dementia Patient

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Donna Mae Scheib

How to Deal with Repeating Conversations of a Dementia Patient

Posted by Donna Mae Scheib on January 17, 2018

How to Deal with Repeating Conversations of a Dementia Patient

One characteristic of those suffering from dementia is that they tend to repeat questions and stories and repeat them often. This can be frustrating for the caregiver and for those who spend time with the senior.

Here are some tips for addressing these repetitions and making the time spent with your loved one more enjoyable.

Understanding Dementia & Short-term Memory

Understanding what your loved one is going through is the best starting place. In the early stages of dementia, seniors may begin to have difficulty in recalling and storing information; their ability to remember various bits of information will vary from moment to moment and day to day.

This behavior relates to short-term memory, which involves one’s ability to recall information for a relatively short amount of time (such as a few seconds). In many cases, only a few things—approximately 5-9—can be recalled at once; after that, the information fades from memory. For example, when you look up a phone number, you may repeat it to yourself until you dial the number... did you remember all of the digits correctly? How long did you retain the phone number in your head? That’s an example of short-term memory.

Affirm Your Loved One’s Feelings & Give Them Something To Do

When your loved one asks the same question over and over again or repeats the same phrase or story, the caregiver can do several things. First, acknowledge what your loved says and use some of their words to affirm their feelings; then, try to change the subject by telling them something or divert their attention by giving them something else to do.

If you can offer a task that they can do successfully (e.g., fold clothes, match socks, sort silverware, clip coupons), they will undoubtedly feel good as they are doing something constructive and helping out. Or, you could suggest listening to their favorite songs and encourage them to recognize the singers or the titles. Any activities that involve music are especially helpful as music-related recollection is one skill that dementia patients generally maintain.

Be Patient and Listen

It is best to avoid saying, “Yes, you told me that already” or to get angry about the repetitions. Confronting a loved one who has dementia or using logic and reasoning will most likely add to their anxiety; in turn, their verbal repetition may actually increase. And it is never recommended to ignore what the person is saying—it only adds to the person feeling isolated.

It is also important to remember that communication is still very important for dementia patients. Even though they repeat questions and stories, your loved one wants to engage with you. They may feel that they are “talked at” most of the time and that they would welcome a back and forth interaction. They may be looking for comfort, security and familiarity.

Expand the Conversation

Another technique is to ask them to share more about so and so. This opens the door for your loved one to add something to the conversation and to change up what is presently talked about.  It also helps them to feel less lonely.

The way you speak to your loved one is also important. Don’t ask too many questions at once. If you need to ask a question, ask one question at a time and make sure you use simple words and short sentences. Allow enough time for them to respond. Speak clearly and slowly. Watch for their facial clues to see if they are following what you are saying. Avoid shouting, but speak loud enough for them to hear.

Communicate in Other Ways

If the person is still able to read, you might consider writing down the question and the answer so they can use this as a prompt if they wonder about the same thing again. Any other visual clues might be worth trying—like a calendar, clock or pictures.

Again, continue to offer reassurance. You can place your hand on their hand or around their shoulder and look into their eyes. Smile and be patient. Don’t be alarmed if you need to repeat statements or questions as needed or requested by your loved one.

Offer Love and Reassurance

When it is time for you to go, tell them how much you enjoyed the visit and inform them when you will be visiting again.

Remember, conversations don’t have to stop when someone is diagnosed with dementia. Try to accept the repetitions as a part of the illness and engage your loved one with acceptance and understanding. Remember, too, that repetitive conversations are seldom harmful. Try to understand what their repetitions mean. Do they need your help? Are they frustrated or insecure about something? What are they trying to say? How are they feeling?

These tips will go a long way for making the time spent with your loved one as meaningful and well spent as possible.