3 things you can do to cope with repetitive questions

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“Where am I?” Nathan asked. “Where’s my room?” 

We’d showed Nathan his room about 15 times that day, and it was getting exhausting. I was new to dementia care, and wanted to “solve” this “behavioral issue” with some creativity. Here was the issue, though: you can’t stop repetitive questions. You can, perhaps, distract the person for a while, but you can’t make the questions cease forever. In order to help Nathan, I drew him a map of the community and pointed to his room. I affixed this to his walker. To some degree, this DID calm some of his anxiety: he liked maps. But it certainly didn’t help him find his room, nor delay the question-asking. (Hey, I was new to this, okay?)

A lot of family members and staff members will ask me, “How do I stop so-and-so from asking me the same thing a million times a day?” I always smile and laugh, “Bad news, it’s not going to happen.” 

Although you can’t stop someone with dementia from asking the same questions multiple times a day, here are 3 things you CAN do:

  1. First, take a deep breath. Seriously. Don’t tell them, “You asked that already,” or, “I’ve told you a million times.” Take a deep breath, and this deep breath is for you, not them. Then, smile. Answer the question with a smile. They don’t remember asking you this before.
  2. Try answering the same question, but in a different way. Again, this is for YOU. I like to see how many ways I can answer the same question in a different inflection, with a few more or less different words in the sentence, or with a different vocalization.
  3. Get the person with dementia involved in something else. You are less likely to hear the same question again and again if they aren’t bored. 

Above all else, understand that you aren’t going to be able to “get” the person with dementia to “stop with the questions.” It’s more about your coping skills and how you decide to handle it.

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Rachael Wonderlin is an internationally-recognized dementia care expert and consultant. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of three published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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