Question: My dad with Alzheimer’s constantly repeats himself. When he asks when his next doctor appointment is over and over again, I lose patience. Do you have any ideas to address this?
I recall being at a caregiver support group several years ago and a family member asked the group, “What is the hardest part of being a caregiver?” Several answers were suggested, but when one caregiver said “patience,” there was laughter and a quick consensus agreement was reached. It’s hard to practice patience when you are a caregiver for a person with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia.
Why does a person with dementia ask the same question repeatedly? The answer is actually pretty straightforward. The hallmark symptom of Alzheimer’s disease is short-term forgetfulness and most of the other dementias also impact memory. Your dad with Alzheimer’s asks about the appointment because he is literally forgetting that he has already asked and that you’ve already answered!
The underlying cause of his behavior most likely is anxiety. Your father may be worried about missing the appointment or anxious about his health. Although it is very tempting, it usually doesn’t help to repeatedly explain the facts to your dad, correct him, or become impatient. In fact, losing your own cool may simply add fuel to the fire and cause other behaviors that are challenging such as agitation or anger.
Here are some ideas for addressing his anxiety and coping with the repetition:
- The first time the question comes up take a few moments to answer the question fully and provide reassurance that all is well. People with dementia are just like the rest of us. They want to feel that family members are listening and being present for concerns.
- If this doesn’t work, I use the magic phrase, “Tell me more about that.” Ask your Dad to tell you about the doctor’s visit, what he likes about the doctor, what he thinks of the doctor’s office, or his opinion about the décor of the waiting room. When you ask open ended questions like these it will hopefully “draw your father out” and get him talking about his concerns. Getting these “off his chest” may help redirect him from the repetition. It may also allow you to discover a real concern, for example, that he is afraid you’ll get lost on the way there. This allows you to address the concern and underlying anxiety directly and may break the pattern of repetition!
- Change the subject! Think about something from your Dad’s life story that brings him happiness or is of interest. Serve him his favorite beverage or snack. Sometimes a good cup of coffee prepared the way he likes it or his favorite chocolate ice cream cone will relax him and move him away from his anxiety. Other examples of distraction include involving him in a simple chore like sweeping, dusting, brushing the dog, playing his favorite music, or going outside on a nice day.
These techniques have saved the day for me and others, but they don’t always work. Sometimes you simply have to hold the person’s hand, give a big hug, assure them that all is well and then take a deep breath if the questions continue. Trying to keep your sense of humor is important along with recognizing that the behavior is caused by the person’s medical condition – Alzheimer’s and dementia are a handful for everyone.
If you truly find yourself losing patience and getting angry and upset, this may be a sign that it is time to get some help. Go to a support group for moral support and take advantage of services that can provide you with respite like an adult day center or in-home worker. Taking a break from your situation can allow you to rebuild your energy and resiliency. It’s okay to take care of yourself.