A person with dementia will be prone to repeating themselves and asking the same questions time and time again. Christina Neal explains how to deal with this situation.

As the saying goes, patience is a virtue. That’s certainly true when caring for a person with dementia. I know it’s not always possible to be patient all the time. There will be days when the stresses and strains of being a carer will wear you down. And there will be other days when you feel better, naturally have more energy and feel more positive about your role.

My late mum had vascular dementia, and she used to repeat herself and ask the same questions, often in five or ten-minute timeframes. As her condition got worse, there was of course more confusion and more repetition. It could be a challenge but I must admit, I found it easier to deal with than her mood swings or sudden bursts of aggression. What was interesting, however, was that mum had a sense of awareness about the things she kept repeating. She would ask me a question or say something and then say: ‘Did I just ask you that?’ And even though she used to forget that my father had died, there were also occasions when she had a sense that he was no longer with us, even if she wasn’t sure.

One time she asked me why he hadn’t come home from work. I didn’t want to tell her she had forgotten that he had died, or else she would grieve all over again (I’d made that mistake once before). So I mentioned how awful the traffic was outside. Ten minutes later she asked about him again and when I said he wasn’t here at the moment she looked at me sternly and said: ‘You mean he’s dead?’

Unpredictable mind

It was sad of course but morbidly fascinating. The way the mind works where dementia is concerned is extremely unpredictable.

If your loved one keeps repeating things or asking the same question, don’t point this out to them. If you tell them they keep saying the same things or you’ve just told them something, it will start to eat away at their confidence and self-esteem. If they ask a question, give them the answer as if you’ve said it for the first time.

It doesn’t matter how many times you repeat something. It won’t do you or the person any harm to say the same things. While you may get fed up with hearing yourself saying the same thing, it’s important to protect the person’s feelings.

Aware of repeating things

When my mum was aware that she kept repeating things, it made her anxious and scared. She used to think she was going mad. ‘What’s wrong with me Chris?’ she would ask, with fear in her eyes. She’d long forgotten about her dementia diagnosis, so I used to play things down and reassure her that it was natural to forget things and she’d had a lot on her mind lately. This used to comfort her a little bit. My main reason for downplaying her memory loss was to make her feel safe and secure, rather than fearful. You can’t always make a person with dementia happy. And yes, they are going to get frustrated when they forget things and gradually lose the ability to articulate their thoughts. Be patient if you can, and reassure them as much as possible.