Coping with Repetitive Questions

Posted by Rachael Wonderlin on March 5, 2020

Guest Blogger Rachael Wonderlin, MS, is a dementia care consultant living in Pittsburgh, PA. She runs Dementia By Day and authored the book , “When Someone You Know is Living in a Dementia Care Community,” published by Johns Hopkins University Press.

One of the comments I hear from families most often is, “My loved one with dementia asks me or tells me the same thing again and again.” Trust me—I know it can be a frustrating and even exhausting piece of caregiving: you feel like you’ve said the same thing a million times, but your loved one just isn’t remembering it. What can you do to stop the repetitive questions?

Put simply, the answer is this: not much. I know this isn’t what you want to hear, but the fact is that most people living with dementia do not have the ability to store or recall short-term memories. This is why, when they ask what time their doctor appointment is, you end up repeating “2:00 on Monday” fifteen times.

Many caregivers resort to writing notes and reminders for loved ones with dementia in the hopes that this will alleviate the repetition. In very early stages of cognitive loss, notes might be helpful, but past an early stage most people with dementia won’t know to look for the note. You’ll find yourself saying, “Look at the note I wrote you!” which isn’t much better than saying, “2:00 on Monday.” In some ways, it’s actually worse: you’re now explaining where a note is and why you wrote it!

As I tell caregivers, notes and reminder apps don’t work. Often, tech companies will contact me with their ideas for “disruption apps” in dementia care: they’re looking to create an application that will “remind” a person with dementia what time it is, what day it is, what events are coming up, or maybe to take their medication. The problem, however, is that a person living with dementia doesn’t know what they don’t know. They don’t realize that they need to look at an application or a note to find new information.

All of that said, what can you actually do? These are the best tactics:

  1. Take a deep breath. Remember that the person living with dementia doesn’t mean to annoy or frustrate you. They don’t remember asking you about that appointment, and will probably be upset if they sense you’re angry with them for asking about it. Remember: to them, it’s the first and only time they’ve asked.
  2. Try to answer in a different tone. We don’t want to answer the question in an angry, agitated way, because we’re only going to cause an argument. Try your hand at answering in a slightly different voice or with different body language. See how many ways you can answer the question while sounding positive and upbeat.
  3. Take a break. It’s okay to leave the room for a bit and get some space! You deserve it.
  4. Bring in extra help. Being the sole caregiver is an impossible task, both physically and emotionally. You need and deserve caregiving assistance.
  5. Remember that this will pass. Whatever it is that your loved one is currently fixated on, remember that it will pass. They will eventually move on from asking about that item or stop repeating that story.

Remember, that we never want to “remind” a person living with dementia of upsetting facts. For example, reminding mom that her parents are dead is not helpful or constructive. Instead, embrace their reality and make a choice to live in their world. Ask the person, “Where do you think your loved one is?” and then go with the answer they’ve given you.

 Learn more on Rachael’s blog,