How to Answer Your Loved One's Repetitive Questions

Jacqueline Marcell Health Guide June 15, 2006
  • If you're caring for a loved one who's been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, or is beginning to exhibit symptoms of cognitive impairment, you may find yourself answering repetitive questions more and more frequently. Realize that repetitive questions are a symptom of short-term memory loss, which is a warning sign of some type of dementia–possibly Alzheimer’s Disease. Because it is so intermittent in the beginning, comes and goes, most people just chalk it up to old age and ignore it until there is a crisis. It’s so imperative that you don’t overlook this symptom, because with early diagnosis and treatment, the progression of dementia can be slowed down, which delays full-time care.

    So when your elderly mother asks again what time you are going to the doctor’s (and you have already answered “three o’clock” a couple times), realize that no matter how many times you answer, even if you raise your voice and answer emphatically, each time seems like the first time to her. Since her short-term memory is impaired at that moment, your nasty attitude seems inappropriate and hurtful to her. Fortunately, there are some techniques you can use that will not only reduce your frustration, but will also help your mother.

    The second time you get asked the same question within a short period of time, simply turn it around and ask the question yourself. “Gee Mom, I forget now-what time do you think we are going to the doctor’s?” If she answers correctly, you know it isn’t dementia at that moment and so maybe she’s just trying to make conversation or maybe she just needs a hug. If she says, “Well, ummm, I don’t know-that’s why I asked.” Calmly answer again and then write the answer out clearly on a 4×6 file card and put it in front of her.

    The next time she asks say, “You know what? I think the answer to that is right there on your card.” She can read and with some calm repetition on your part, she will soon learn that when she has the desire to know what time the appointment is, she can reach for the card to find the answer. You can even make up a little booklet of her “Top 20 Questions” and then when one of them is asked you can say, “I think the answer to that is right there on page eight of your book.” Yes, it takes a little time and patience, but realize you are helping her mind to function better.

    I learned these and many valuable techniques from one of my favorite people in the healthcare world-Dr. Cameron Camp, Ph.D., a research psychologist specializing in applied gerontology. Dr. Camp is Director and Senior Research Scientist at Myers Research Institute in Cleveland, where cognitive and behavioral interventions for use with persons with dementia are created.

    I want to publicly thank Dr. Camp, because I taught his techniques to my best friend who has been using them on her mother who had a paralyzing stroke and subsequent dementia. I am delighted to report they have helped them both quite a bit!


    How have you dealt with answering repetitive questions from your loved one? Tell us in the message boards.


  • You can learn more about Jacqueline and find information about her book at ElderRage.com.