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Ask the OT - Why Does the Person with Dementia Ask the Same Questions?

Posted by on 9/24/2014
Today I announce our new resource, "Ask the OT". Caregivers often have questions or situations that come up in dementia care.  Although one answer never fits all situations, having different perspectives on the issue can help - in this case the perspective of an occupational therapist (OT). Below is our first question and and more information about myself, "the OT".

Why does the person with dementia say the same things over and over?

The easy answer, but one that can be hard to keep in perspective, is that the person does not remember that he or she already told you that piece of information or story.  Yes, in literally seconds, the person can have forgotten what was just discussed.  The diseased brain is like a sieve with holes in it.  The information just leaks right out instead of staying in the brain as it should.

Sometimes the person may be doing it to get attention.  I don't mean to say that the person is purposely doing it to get attention, but rather the person may be bored or even frightened and may be seeking conversation or reassurance.

Another possibility is that the person is having a strong memory of a past event.  The fact that the person is experiencing memories is a good thing, but perhaps it is not a happy memory or an unresolved memory, that is worrying the person.  In either case, the caregiver understanding that the dementia illness is causing this behavior, is important.

Is there a way I can reduce the dementia behavior of repetitive questioning?

Yes, there are strategies to try. If one does not work, try another.  The repeating may not go away completely, but it likely can be reduced.

  • Keep calm.  If you become upset, it is likely the person may become more upset.
  • Write down the answer(s).  You might put the answer on a notebook or paper the person can keep.  Then refer the person to the note when they ask again. Include both the question and the brief answer.
  • Use a calendar if the person is asking about events.  It can be a full calendar, weekly calendar, daily calendar, or even a list of noteworthy MORNING and AFTERNOON activities.  A dry erase board could also be used. The type of calendar you use will depend on the abilities of the person.  Seeing the schedule written out can be re-assuring for the person.
  • Listen to the person, especially if it is a memory of a past event.  Validate what the person says, for example, 'That must have been hard." or "What do you like best about (fill in the blank - such as your mother, your old home, etc.)". 
  • Reassure the person and re-direct.  Take a walk, do an activity together, sing a song. Research on using activities in dementia care has shown that engaging the person in activity can reduce behaviors such as repetitive questioning.  Learn more about how to incorporate activities into the day for the person with dementia.

Do you have a technique that you have found works?  Please share in the comments below, so all readers can learn from your experience.

Monica Heltemes is a practicing occupational therapist with over 15 years experience working with people with dementia and caregivers and is the founder of MindStart.  As an occupational therapist, she helps patients and caregivers with tips for their daily routines, safety in the home, communication, adapted techniques and equipment, addressing behaviors, and more. Monica has used her occupational therapy expertise and experience to design products (such as games, puzzles, and books) that meet the unique needs of people with dementia.  The items have a specific design so that they are easier to complete but yet remain adult-oriented in appearance and content.  See MindStart products.

Information in this article are suggestions and are not a replacement for medical advice or care.

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1 Comments

janet keith
Date: 4/18/2016
I have made booklets with things like the days of the week. I put it on a small easel on a table by the chair. We turn the page to the right day of the week every morning. Mom used to ask over and over what day it was now she might even tell you what day it is. We also use a small dry erase board. If we are doing something in another room we write it down for her it keeps her from calling out for us just to ask where we are at and we can hear her reading it over and over.
Donna Parsons
Date: 9/6/2016
My dad always kept a calendar hanging on the wall, so when he wound up in the hospital one of the things he wanted to see was a calendar on the wall; do you know how hard it is to find one in a hospital; maybe we could at least find somebody who could print pages off?
MindStart
Date: 9/7/2016
Janet, that is great! A memory strategy like a booklet or written reminders is better to start sooner than later, while the person can learn how to use them. They also help to comfort the person and help him or her feel a bit more independent.

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