Keep your cool when faced with repetitive questions

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"Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

In the 15-plus years I have been with Memory Matters, one of the issues that continues to bubble up with caregivers is how to handle their loved one being repetitive.

How can they ask the same question 10 times in 10 minutes? How can I, the caregiver, deal with this and not get angry?

I refer to a website, DailyCaring.com, often to look for answers to many issues facing caregivers. On this particular subject, the site offers some great advice.

Understand that sometimes nothing seems to work and you just have to walk away for a few minutes. Always, always remember your loved one cannot help it. Repetition can be brought on by anxiety, stress or because often they do not know what is happening, where they are, or what time of day it is. This can be very unsettling. They are not repeating to make you angry.

They simply cannot remember... so let's look at some possible coping techniques, excerpted from DailyCaring.com.

  1. Respond to the emotion, not the words. When the repetition begins try to guess what feelings may be causing the behavior. Try a hug or hand squeeze while calmly answering the question.
  2. Keep your answers brief. It's tempting to answer a question from a person with Alzheimer's the same way you'd answer anyone else. But the shorter and simpler your answer, the better. It saves you time and energy when you have to repeat it often.
  3. Distract with an activity. Food can be a great distraction. Offer something she really enjoys. If there are chores she can still do, try to engage her in sweeping, raking, folding laundry, polishing silver. Keep a basket of old clothes specifically for distraction. Sometimes giving your loved one something to hold, a stuffed animal or one of her favorite items, has a calming effect. Keep a table set up with crayons, paper, puzzles, tactile objects or whatever she would enjoy.
  4. Escape for a few minutes. It is very difficult to keep your cool when nothing seems to work. If possible walk away, go outside, and breathe. You are only human and we cannot always be kind and patient.

Bottom line, to answer the same question over and over again is beyond frustrating. Do your best to stay calm, but if you lose your temper, it is because you are human. Forgive yourself and take a brief time out to help you stay calm.

My last suggestion is to consider attending our caregiver support groups. Memory Matters has three groups, one for men, one for women, and a general support group. The schedule can be found on our website at mymemorymatters.org.

Being with people who are facing similar issues can be comforting and believe me you will make some friends.

Karen Doughtie is assistant director of Memory Matters, serving Bluffton and Hilton Head. karen@memory-matters.org; mymemorymatters.org

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