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Quick Tips for Caregivers

By Trena Winans, Education & Community Outreach Director

Probably the number one thing I hear from family members who have a loved one with memory loss, is a desire to find more patience with repetitive questions and stories from their person. While there is no magic formula for attaining patience, it can help to understand more about what is happening.

First and foremost, it is essential to know that they are not doing it on purpose. Changes in the brain are causing them to forget that they already asked that question three times (or more.) A person experiencing cognitive change is likely to have trouble remembering what they just said, what others said to them, or what has happened recently. They may also be struggling to find the right words to express what they want, and so will fall back on the nearest words to mind.

One of the central experiences your person may be having is confusion. Things that were once familiar and easy, are now new and different, and sometimes scary. Many times the closest person to them becomes their touchstone to reality and primary source of comfort in this newly confusing world. As a result, they may simply be seeking to regularly interact with you as a way to feel that connection- even when they have nothing in particular to say.

So what can you do? First, take a deep breath and remember that they are unable to change, and so it is up to you to act as though you are hearing this question for the first time. Keep in mind that as their ability to utilize language effectively fades, they will become more reliant on body language and facial expressions to communicate. Try hard to project calm in your demeanor and you will be much less likely to have an interaction escalate to a fight or negative conversation. If you’re feeling too tired or stressed to react calmly right now, leave the room for a few minutes if you can and if the person is safe.

Oftentimes a person experiencing cognitive change will be nervous about upcoming events or appointments and this can cause a lot of repetitive questions. One way to minimize their stress and the ensuing questions is to wait until just beforehand to tell them about it. For some people, it helps to post a calendar or daily schedule where they can check on it. For others, this may increase agitation about the event. It pays for you to take an experimental approach so you can discover what works best for your person at this time.

When in doubt, look for calming distractions that can take their mind off of their worries and get them thinking about something else. Music, walks outdoors, or a funny show might just do the trick when you find your patience wearing thin.

Finally, remember that their feelings are very real. Sometimes what he or she needs most is to know they are heard and to feel understood. Give them validation about what they are saying and feeling, and you will be more likely to be successful in helping them move on to another task or topic.