Handling Repetitive Questions from a Loved One with Dementia
While not all forms of dementia feature severe memory problems, it can be a major symptom in many cases, especially for people with Alzheimer’s disease. For a family caregiver, one of the most frustrating parts of dementia-related memory loss is that they face a constant barrage of repetitive questions. This can become a major source of stress, and too much stress during the caregiving process can leave family caregivers with long-term health problems. Luckily, this stress can be minimized by using a few strategies to lessen the occurrence and impact of repetitive questioning.
When a loved one with dementia first begins to ask the same questions repeatedly it may become tiresome to be giving the same answers over and over again. At some point, the temptation to respond randomly or with outright lies might become strong, especially if the questions are uncomfortable and/or cause distress for the loved one (like questions about relatives that they do not realize are deceased). Despite this urge, it is best to remain honest and consistent whenever possible.
Answering repetitive questions with consistent, albeit also repetitive, answers will provide a sense of stability for the loved one. It will also increase the chance of them retaining some information. Perhaps most importantly, consistent responses will prevent unnecessary confusion and will help maintain a sense of trust in the relationship.
Return the Question
A good strategy, when faced with repetitive questions from a loved one with dementia, is to ask them the question instead of immediately providing the answer. This approach can be beneficial in multiple ways:
- The cycle of repetitive questioning is broken, at least momentarily.
- It promotes cognitive stimulation by forcing them to use their memory.
- The caregiver gets a chance to take control of the conversation.
Change the Subject
Sometimes, the best way to deal with repetitive questions is to change the topic of discussion. It can be a particularly useful choice when trying to avoid distressing subjects, like divorce, illness, and death, that might cause a negative emotional response for the loved one. Rather than lying, which can cause confusion and trust issues, caregivers can instead ignore the question and respond with a new topic.
Take a Break
Family caregivers often face a unique challenge in comparison to professional caregivers by rarely getting time away from their duties. Professionals usually have freedom from repetitive questions at home during their time off, but this is not possible for most family caregivers. Accordingly, a family caregiver should take advantage of all opportunities to spend time away from this role. This may be achieved by asking family members or friends to fill in when necessary, or by hiring professional home care services. Even if it is only for a few hours per week, taking breaks is necessary to avoid long-term problems related to burnout, like health issues and a deterioration of the relationship with the loved one receiving care.
Last but by no means least, a key strategy for dealing with repetitive questions from a loved one with dementia is to remain aware of the motivation behind their behavior. They are suffering from a disease that impacts their memory. This fact may seem obvious from an outside perspective, but after closely caring for a loved one with dementia for a long period of time, emotions can sometimes begin to override common sense. It can be difficult to think of a loved one as being impaired, especially if they normally play a strong role in the family (as a parent, for example). Making the effort to step back and consider the circumstances when frustrations mount is an important part of caring for a loved one with dementia in general.
If you notice that you are being asked repetitive questions by an older adult who has not been diagnosed with a form of dementia, then they may benefit from using a self-detection tool like the BrainTest® app. It can help identify the signs of abnormal cognitive decline due to Alzheimer’s disease and provides the best opportunity to benefit from an early diagnosis should the condition be present.