When caring for someone with dementia it’s likely you’ll experience repetitive behaviour.
As the disease progresses, people living with dementia may ask the same question over and over, repeat an activity or say the same thing constantly. This can be exhausting for carers. Coming up with an answer every time requires much patience.
Caregivers can find repetitive questions exasperating! As hard as it may be, try not to lose your cool. Watch your approach. Rolling your eyes, lashing out or ignoring a person can make them feel even more confused.
People living with dementia will pick up nonverbal communication. A change in the tone of your voice or a small gesture can be hurtful or lead to further anxiety.
Memory loss, confusion and disorientation to time and place can make it difficult for people with dementia to make sense of what’s happening around them.
They may forget they asked you a question or your answer within minutes of asking.
Sometimes there can be a theme to their questions or behaviour, suggesting an underlying concern or fear.
Caregivers often make the mistake of revealing upcoming visits to a doctor or family events to a loved one with dementia.
An inability to judge time can cause ongoing confusion and stress about the event. The anticipation of the event can create so much anxiety for the person that they repeatedly ask you when it’s going to occur.
It can help to remember that repetitive questioning is not always a need for the actual information but a need for reassurance and comfort. Losing your temper and saying,” I’ve just told you -” will only cause more confusion and make you feel worse.
In the case of repetitive actions always react to the emotion first (how are they feeling?) create a pleasant diversion (give them a set task) and redirect if possible. And take a deep breath!
Repeating the same action constantly
Repeatedly packing a bag or doing one activity constantly is a common behaviour of people living with dementia. Some people do tasks associated with a former job or hobby. If the person with dementia is happy then there is no harm letting them pursue the activity. For others it could be a sign of boredom and restlessness.
Try setting up an “office” with a filing system and a desk. Allow your family member the freedom to sort through the paper work or work on a computer if it’s important to them.
Leave a cupboard of clothing to be rummaged and sorted as desired as opposed to continually trying to tidy up after a person with dementia.
Doing the dishes, folding linen or sweeping up the leaves can be soothing and familiar activities for people with dementia. Keeping busy and doing everyday things can contribute to an individual’s sense of self and purpose.
As the disease progresses a person may call out the same phrase. This could be related to damage to the brain or a physical discomfort. Is the person too hot or cold? Could they be constipated, thirsty or in pain?
Attempting to go home
This often happens in residential aged care and can make a carer feel very guilty. Some people with dementia may not even recognise their own home and attempt to leave.
If this behaviour is occurring in an aged care home it could be a sign that the person with dementia feels insecure and may need comforting. Try bringing in a familiar item from home. Decorating a family member’s room similar to their surroundings at home can help a person feel more at ease and orientated.
If the person used to leave for work at a certain time of day, certain triggers such as finishing breakfast may indicate to the person that it is time to get to work. Sometimes trying to orientate a person to the fact that they don’t work anymore is pointless. Try explaining that today is a day of rest and get them busy with another activity.
A family member that repeatedly pleads to go home can be heartbreaking. But it’s likely the home they want to go back to they would no longer recognise. It’s ok to distract a person and pretend to go home. Go for a walk or drive around the block. Start packing some clothes then distract with another activity.
Calling home constantly
Many people with dementia will repeatedly phone home at all hours of the night. This can be very distressing for carers. If a family member lives far away you may worry about their safety if they ring overnight.
If your number is displayed prominently by the phone a person with dementia may call without real reason or because they feel anxious.
If it becomes a real problem at night you may have to consider getting a phone with a number recognition so you can decide whether you want to pick it up or not. Try ringing a loved one first before bed.
Take turns with family members. It can be very difficult to get someone to stop calling you. Purchasing a personal alarm system in case of an emergency may make you worry less and put your mind at ease.
If a loved one is in an aged care home ask staff not to call you unless it’s an emergency, having another family member available for calls on certain days can also help. You can always try calling first to make the person feel safe and loved to prevent a night call.