Oftentimes, people living with dementia exhibit repetitive behaviors, such as asking the same question over and over, repeating a word or phrase, or performing the same activity. This can be frustrating for a caregiver who is unsure how to respond.
Caring for a Loved One Experiencing Repetitive Behaviors
By learning how to deal with these behaviors in a calm, creative manner, it’s possible to head them off at the pass. The key is to exercise patience as you try to discover which techniques work best with your loved one. Remember, logic and over explaining are rarely effective because most times people living with dementia don’t even realize that they are engaged in repetitive behavior.
What is Causing the Repetitive Behavior?
The first step is to try to find out the reason behind the behavior. Listen to what isn’t being said. Chances are, Mom is experiencing something she can’t express. Is it possible Dad is anxious due to a change in routine or an unfamiliar person in the vicinity? Too much activity or noise?
Physical discomfort or pain could also be the cause of repetition. Are they hungry? Thirsty? Do they have to use the toilet? Trying to figure out the root cause of the behavior is job one. If you can’t find a cause, try to focus on the emotion your loved one is expressing, rather than the behavior. Taking this approach may reveal a course of action.
Keep an Eye Out for Patterns
If you can’t find a cause, keep an eye out for patterns. Does the behavior happen at certain times of the day? Before or after certain activities? When the room is too hot, too cold, or too crowded? Changing up the routine could make a difference. Redirecting may work as well. Providing an activity, snack, or a change of location might break the cycle, too.
When responding to repetitive questions, keep your answers succinct. Short, direct sentences work best for those with dementia as there is less to decipher. Lengthy explanations can be confusing. If the repetition is physical, can you direct that focus? If he is pacing, perhaps a walk would be in order. If she is fidgeting, maybe a deck of playing cards would keep her hands busy. Try to decipher what the action might be mimicking, such as housework or rocking a child to sleep, and perhaps provide the tools for your loved one to get the job done.
Don’t Give Up
If none of these techniques works to interrupt the loop, try to accept the behavior. And know that if you are feeling annoyed and frustrated, it only means that you are human. Take a short break and remove yourself for a while. Regroup. Recharge. Seek support, and always remember that you are doing the best you can.
Remember, those with dementia feel a need to be heard and understood. Finding a way to show empathy and caring in a way your loved one will recognize is an important part of your continuing relationship.