Alzheimer’s and Repetitive Behaviors. Tips for Responding.

Working with elderly who have dementia or Alzheimer’s, we often find they frequently repeat words, statements, questions and/or actions. Perhaps this repetitive behavior is triggered by anxiety, fear of the environment, or when trying to achieve comfort, security or familiarity. Whatever the reason, how we respond to the repetitive behavior is important in order to monitor their comfort and meet their needs.

Following are some tips on how to respond and or distract from the repetition:

Stay calm, and be patient.  Whether you’ve heard it twice or a hundred times, each time you hear it should be treated as if it’s the first time.  Don’t argue or try to use logic. The person probably does not remember what he/she just spoke.  Becoming upset about the behavior can easily precipitate a catastrophic reaction.

Provide an answer.  Give the person the answer that he/she is looking for, even if you have to repeat it several times.

Engage the person in an activity.  Read him/her an article from the newspaper. Something light and interesting, like a human-interest story.  Look at family photos and show a sincere interest in his/her life.  Clean out a drawer, cupboard, desk etc. with him or her. Reducing clutter leads to sense of accomplishment.  Go for a walk and point out sites of interest.

Induce laughter.  Short, punchy one-liners will almost always result in laughter.  Witty tales about his/her childhood will also usually trigger recognition and inspire laughter.

Look for a reason behind the repetition. Does it occur around certain people or surroundings, or at certain times of day? Is the person trying to communicate something? You might be able to minimize the repetitive behavior if you have an idea of its cause.  Don’t go crazy trying to figure out why the person keeps repeating speech or behavior. If it isn’t harmful, don’t worry about it.  Find ways to work with it.