Repeating Questions: 5 Ways to Respond to a Loved One With Alzheimer’s

woman responding well to repeating questionsWhen a loved one with Alzheimer’s begins repeating questions, it can be really hard to know how to respond. Do you remind them that they already heard the answer? Should you change the subject? If the answer to the question is a painful one, should you answer honestly or not?

If you’re a caregiver, close relative or friend of someone who suffer’s from Alzheimer’s, these are questions and doubts you come up against every day – even several times a day. Hopefully, after you read this, dealing with your loved one’s repeating questions won’t be quite as difficult.

1. Repeated questions get brief responses.

If you answered a question in detail once, there’s no need to do it again. The extra verbiage does nothing for your loved one and will only wear your patience down when you repeat it. Your loved one isn’t repeating their question because they didn’t get it the first time; they’re doing it because they either a) don’t remember that they already asked or b) there’s a concern, a need for help or feelings of frustration and anxiety that they aren’t managing to express. So keep your answers as simple as you can.

2. Respond to repeating questions with the answer they want to hear.

An Alzheimer’s patient who’s repeating questions has very often also hit the stage where they lose track of events. That means they might ask you questions like, “Have you seen Aunt Cora lately” when Aunt Cora died five years ago. If your loved one is okay with hearing about Aunt Cora’s death, then you can gently remind them about it. Go ahead and say, “Remember, Dad? Aunt Cora died.” But if hearing you say that again and again brings up all the pain of Aunt Cora’s death, then answer, “No, Dad, I haven’t seen her in a while.” Or even “Yeah, she’s doing great.” Just give them the answer they want to hear. There’s no point in causing them emotional distress, because this isn’t about the facts anyway.

3. Respond to the emotion, not the behavior.

When your loved one repeats a question, try to notice how they sound. Are they fidgety and agitated? Do they sound sad? Angry? Confused? Whichever emotion you sense they’re experiencing, that’s what you should respond to. And it doesn’t have to be in words. If it seems to you that your loved one is fearful, respond in a warm, reassuring voice. Hold their hand. That’s likely what they’re really looking for.

4. Distract from repeating questions with an activity.

If it’s gotten to the point where you need to stop the behavior, try a distraction tactic. Offer to make them a cup of coffee (if they like it). Mention the new flooring in the lobby of their residence. If the questions are accompanied by repetitive behavior – like hand-wringing – then hand them a towel and ask if they’d mind drying some silverware. Yes, you can wet the silverware especially for this purpose.

5. Always respond calmly and patiently.

Easier said than done, you say? You’re right. But this is crucial. If you snap at your loved one, all you’ll succeed in doing is agitating them and making them even more upset. Remember: they are not in control. The Alzheimer’s is.

One last thing: You’re human. Don’t think you have to be perfect. If the repeating questions are grating on your nerves and you feel like you can’t listen to them one more time, just excuse yourself for a few minutes and leave. Breathe some fresh air. Read for five minutes. Do something that will clear your head and allow you to come back with a smile…and a great response.