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What's the best way to respond when my parent with memory problems keeps repeating himself?

17 answers | Last updated: Sep 30, 2015
A fellow caregiver asked...

Repetition, as the saying goes, may be the mother of all learning, but my 75-year-old dad constantly repeats something he said just two minutes ago. Sometimes he repeats entire anecdotes. What's the best way to respond?


Caring.com User - Joyce Simard
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A social worker and geriatric consultant who specializes in dementia care, Joyce Simard is based in Land O' Lakes, Florida, and in Prague. She...
99% helpful
Joyce Simard answered...

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See all 1035 questions about Alzheimer's and Other Dementias
As tempting as it might be to say, "Dad, you just said that," that's not helpful. If his statement seems to beg for a response, just say, "Oh, OK, Dad," or "Thanks for telling me," in a positive way, and move onto something else. When you remind him he's repeating himself, what you're really doing is lowering his self-esteem. It's best not to make a person with Alzheimer's disease feel more impaired, more ashamed. It's better to respond in ways that will, as much as possible, help your father retain his self-esteem.

Of course, that takes patience. If your dad keeps asking a question over and over, what he's asking is important to him -- even if it's not equally important to you -- and you have to respect that.

Sometimes it's a repetitive question, like "When is lunch?" You can make a card and place it near him: "Lunch is at 12:30." Write down something that acts as a cue. Some assisted living communities place a sign by the mail area that says, "The mail will arrive at 3 p.m."

If he's making repetitive phone calls, consider putting a note in large type by the telephone: "Do not call. Joyce will call you at 1 p.m."

It helps to remember what's really going on. You can compare the disease to a tape recorder that's turned off; nothing gets recorded. No matter how many times you present new information, he may not remember it because it never got recorded. On the other hand, the "tape recorder" in your dad's mind was turned on when he was younger. That's why he probably recalls old songs and all those other things from when he was younger.

Try not to get frustrated with your father. Instead, get frustrated with the disease. It's not something your father has chosen. Think of it as a gift that he can still speak and ask questions.


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92% helpful
home-care answered...

The comparison to the tape recorder is excellent. While repeated questions can be annoying you must reply with kindness because the person asking is concerned about the question but simply cannot retain the new information. The repeated stories or comments can be annoying also but it too is part of the declining condition. If you are a 24/7 caregiver pray for patience and understanding.


87% helpful
learning answered...

The tape recorder example is very good. When my mother repeats questions, often seconds apart, I answer them as though it were the first time. Telling her that she asked before doesn't help because she doesn't remember that either. Yes, it can be frustrating. But once you accept this as part of the disease, it becomes easier. And, the up side is that you don't have to think of any new answers for new questions.


89% helpful
frena answered...

you do what every Mom learns to do, as she hears the 36th recounting of her toddler's tale.

You say:



"Oh dear."

"That's great (terrible, awful, wonderful)!"

"I'm so sorry (glad, happy, sad) to hear that."

And you take the heat out of it by reminding yourself not to forget your Dad has dementia. Then, if you succeed, you give yourself three pats on the back for your kindness.


88% helpful
Marly26 answered...

Someone with Alzeihmers'/Dementia will repeat themselves more than enough times'. I know it can sometimes' be bothersome. My father in law who I have had living with me for 3yrs.now has Dementia. He may repeat the same thing 10-20 times in a day. If I were to say you already told me, his answer "I dont' remember saying that" and of course he doesnt'. So I simply answer his question. I few times' I didn't and his come back was well I feel bad. So hes' letting me know how it is effecting him. Try and answer and again as someone else mentioned, put up Sticky Notes!! When to take pills, right on his dossette or whatever his pills come in or you put them in. This way he is feeling more independent. If he is yet able to read or do puzzles' etc. have him do them. Even if its not right. Having them think, even small jobs that you know will not harm them makes them feel so much more needed and independent. They need this. They dont' want to be the way they are however when they ask you something over and over its like a nerve being pinched after asking, then again opens' and they ask the same again. Try and be patient. If its getting to you just go to another room, pick up a book, go on the pc, whatever it takes to soothe yourself as well as giving yourself "me" time. Remember, I'm not saying treat him as a child but this is the way it is. Whatever he can do independently let him, dont' take that away, to him thats' an insult or he may show anger. Just as a child will ask you many times over the same questions', this is what your getting. The only difference being, he wont' grow out of it. When it gets hard to bear as I said, find a "me" spot, or just simply say I'm going to lie down, whatever. Clear your head and then come back out. Give your father things to do, even cleaning a picture frame, making his bed, whether it be to your liking or not. Make him feel important. Dont' let him lose what they call "ADL" Activities of Daily Living. This is so very important. Make him feel as he did prior to his illness but again only with something that wont' cause him harm. Believe me you will both appreciate each other so much more. Sending you hugs and good luck!!


88% helpful
wasann answered...

Keeping your patience with the same question or story over and over again is definitely one of the more challenging issues I face with my mother. As everyone above has said, it makes them feel bad if they know they have already asked it. One technique I've tried is diversion. After the same question 5 times, I tried to get her thinking about something else so her mind drops that question -- at least for a little while.


89% helpful
lmartin answered...

The tape recorder example is great! I know I would get crazy when things were repeated again and again so somtimes I would answer with different answers and work on my creativity. Always positive and always kind, but different responses to give me some variety. And like one of the other comments says, it was like going back to having a toddler in the house where they repeat things or talk constantly and you just make positive comments. Never negitive and never say "you just said that".


95% helpful
Gonzo08 answered...

My mom is in early stages of dementia. She occasionally may ask the same question several times. The interesting thing to me as, at least right now, after she asks the question she'll follow up by saying "I think I already asked that didn't I or you've already told me before haven't you". It's like once she hears the question, she recognizes the thought. I simply respond "yes you did. But it's good that you remember you asked. I don't mind telling you as many times as you ask. It's OK". It seems to give her encouragement and lets her know I'm not upset by repeated questions.


89% helpful
frena answered...

i'd also add that, very often, the things people repeat over and over and over and .... oh sorry, it's catching... often have emotional relevance. if they ask about their Mom, they may feel lost and lonely and in need of something like mothering. If they ask about what time it is, they may be feeling terminally bored but also be unable to find something to do, since initiative is lost in dementia (unless it's for eating ice cream). sometimes giving a task can help divert the mind circuit. sorting a drawer full of stuff (don't be expecting much though), cutting out coupons, sweeping the yard (quite badly). and for us, instead of being frustrated and angry, why not choose that time to practice deep breathing and forgiveness (as we ourselves shall need some day when we similarly annoy our caregivers-to-be). i mean, we can't change them, on the whole, so that leaves ourselves. at my caregivers support group. i notice that people most battle with the inevitable and unavoidable aspects of dementia. they get mad at forgetfulness and irritated at repetition, but these are guaranteed. kindness is such a great spiritual practice, kind to ourselves, kind to those in illness.


95% helpful
so tired answered...

My mom is 95, blind, very hard of hearing, has had several strokes, can no longer follow a TV program, is confined to bed or wheelchair and has dementia. With all her difficulties, there isn't much she's able to do to occupy her time. However, she loves to pray the rosary. I always tell her she's the best 'prayer' in the family. When she repeats a question many times, I tell her I don't mind answering her question but very soon I need her to get busy praying for all the people who need her help. There is always an endless list of people who need prayers and she enjoys feeling useful. She especially enjoys praying to St Anthony for help finding lost objects and then tells everyone how she helped us so much with her prayers. She is a dear and I feel so lucky to have this time to spend with her, even though it's been 24/7 for 6 years.

Another thing that helps mom is to put on the local news station that repeats the news every half hour. She has a special speaker that blares the sound right into her ear. She doesn't remember what they tell her but that's fine because they'll repeat it again shortly.


82% helpful
An anonymous caregiver answered...

My mother was 91 when she passed. I had been there to see her 4 or 5 days before and expected nothing. The lady taking care of Mother had a lot of experience with hospice care and she expected nothing either. The last three years any time we (I am married only child) came to visit, Mother would tell about teaching 5 grades in a one room school house with a pot-bellied stove fo heat. For punishment the kids had to saddle her horse after school, feed it and put it away before school. There are other stories that she would tell, & tell, & tell, & tell, & tell again. What to do, what to do? You smile, listen intently and ask, "What about the stove in the winter?" "Gee, that's neat Mother...Wow...Really?" All the time thinking, 'She has told this story before, why again?' Because this is the first time today - not the 4th or 5th time as far as she knows. Three years later my thoughts have changed. I wish I could hear her tell those stories again or least should have set up a recorder. (I tried setting up an 8mm cam corder. That did not go over well)


70% helpful
frena answered...

hey So Tired, lovely to hear the depth of love between you and your Mama. Ask her to pray for this -- some help so you can just go out (or stay in and nap uninterrupted) and have some time for you. it sounds as if you probably have a church community around you and i hope you take the spiritual risk of asking for friendly help. Ask and you shall receive, but only if you ask. Many blessings and, by the way, please ask your Mama to ask St Anthony where the heck i put my second-best specs, would you? thanks again!


100% helpful
chatty1 answered...

I have not been able to make any comments for a while due to the fact that my mama has been deteriorating so rapidly, I as well as my brothers have been very busy keeping mama on the right track. We have our first meeting with hospice and palliative care today. She has been in the repetive stage for a while and we have been just saying ok mama and she is asking us to take care of things that we have no clue what she is talking about but we just tell her yes or we already have and this satisfies her. I know she is in her final days now so making her happy and comfortable are all I care about. The rest is in God's hands and I will be her loving daughter until her days on Earth are done. She tells me she loves me everyday and she still knows who we are but not much more. She says she is not hungry but eats when we put food in front of her. My sister in law is a nurse so she is the one whom mama trusts to bathe her. I change her bed clothes and me and my brother do the laundry, I grocery shop and my brother and sister in law take care of the meds so we are working together as a family and praying for every day God gives us with Mama.


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chatty1 answered...

I will also ask all of you to pray with us and for us in our difficult time as we are all in the same place. We will all pray for each other for this cruel disease that someday there will be a cure. You are all in my prayers so please keep my family and my mama in yours...thank all of you and may God bless you all.


75% helpful
CA-Claire answered...

While the notes may be a nice way for a person without dementia to remember something, what happens with people with dementia is that their places become plastered with notes (even worse since the Post-It notes are so popular), that they ignore as if they are a part of the furniture.


50% helpful
CaretakerDaughter answered...

This is one of the areas I've had so many problems with. My 88yo mother with mid-level AD has a problem with reading notes -- seems she either ignores the note or throws it out (she automatically picks up stuff all the time to throw out). For Christmas dinner, I am cooking many items for the family. I'll type out the menu for her, as well as the people/names of who are coming...and she'll out the paper away and will keep asking me over and over again "What are you serving?" and "Who's coming?" Arghhhh!


60% helpful
Joanne PB answered...

I used to listen to my dear Grandmother tell me the same stories over and over again..I loved it and never tired of it, it was not dementia per say but getting forgetful in her old age. I still miss those cool stories 20 years later. My poor Mom on the other hand was very ill for many years and the demetia was just the topping on everything. In the begininng I didn't even realize what was happening, I'd tell her to ask my husband to pick me up some bread or milk on the way home from work as he would stop by to see if she needed anything, he worked up the block from where Mom lived, anyway I was offended when he came home empty handed because she forgot to tell him what I asked, this went on for months before I realized something might be wrong in her mind. I could deal with all her other illnesses and ailments but the dememtia stole my sweet mother away from me and our family..I hate the disease and wish they would find a cure :-( Mom has been gone almost 2 years and I miss her so, I'd rather hear her asking me the same things over and over than to feel this emptyness in my heart, we were not just Mother and daughter...we were best friends..rest in peace Mom, can't wait to be reunited some day with you, Dad and Grandmom xo xo P.S. For the ppl still dealing with repitition..stay calm and just go along..you'll miss that when your loved one passes..believe me*