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.

The underlying cause of your loved one’s behavior most likely is anxiety. Although it is very tempting, it usually doesn’t help to repeatedly explain the facts to this person, correct him or her, 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 your loved one’s anxiety and coping with the repetition:

  1. 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.

  2. If this doesn’t work, it may help to use the magic phrase, “Tell me more about that.” Getting these “off his or her chest” may help redirect the person from the repetition. It may also allow you to discover a real concern. This allows you to address the concern and underlying anxiety directly and may break the pattern of repetition!

  3. Change the subject! Think about something from this person’s life story that brings him happiness or is of interest. Serve a favorite beverage or snack. Sometimes a good cup of coffee prepared the way he or she likes it or serving a favorite chocolate ice cream cone will relax this person and move him or her away from this anxiety. Other examples of distraction include involving your loved one in a simple chore like sweeping, dusting, brushing the dog, playing some favorite music, or going outside on a nice day.

These techniques may save the day at times, but they don’t always work. Sometimes you simply have to hold your loved one’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.