Watching a loved one with dementia either do – or say – the same thing over and over again can test the patience of the most laid-back carer and make an already difficult day go rapidly downhill. Find out what might make repetitive behaviour easier to handle

Could this be you?

You’ve always considered yourself a calm, patient, loving person and you find caring for someone with dementia very rewarding but:
• They keep asking you the same question, or saying the same word or phrase, over and over again.
• They’ve developed some really annoying gestures/mannerisms which they do continually
• They insist on walking up and down, or round in circles, for no apparent reason.

Repetitive behaviour is, sadly, quite a common symptom of dementia and although it may seem quite trivial, it can be extremely irritating and cause a lot of tension between you and the person you’re caring for.

Remember...

It isn’t deliberate

Even though repetitive behaviour might be driving you potty, it’s rarely intentionally designed to provoke you, even if your relationship with your loved one has been strained and tested by the illness.

It isn’t dangerous

Repetitive behaviour rarely causes any harm to the person with dementia, so try not to worry too much about it and instead look for ways to cope with it (see below).

Three common causes of repetitive behaviour

1. Forgetfulness and memory loss
As dementia progresses, brain cells deteriorate making it more and more difficult for the person to make sense of the world and retain information.

Ask yourself: Would memory prompts help? There are lots of practical ways to cope with increasing forgetfulness. For example, putting notes around the house with the answer to simple questions they might ask, or making sure a calendar and clock remain close by so the person with dementia knows the day and time and without having to keep asking. You could consider a dementia clock, too.

2. Insecurity
Is the person you’re caring for feeling worried or anxious? If the world they live in feels strange and unfamiliar, repeating the same words or behaviour might be a way they’ve found to comfort themselves.

Ask yourself: Can you say or do something to ease their anxiety? Simply holding their hand, smiling and saying something like ‘I’m here for you,’ in a soothing voice, might help considerably.

Tip: Don’t say, ‘you’ve just asked me that/already said that,’ it will only make them feel more anxious and humiliated.

3. Boredom
If daily life lacks stimulation your loved one might be trying to find a way to provide meaning and purpose.

Ask yourself: If folding the same towel 50 times gives them a sense of purpose, and makes them feel helpful, do you really have to stop them? If possible, you could try to turn the behaviour into a more meaningful activity. For example, if they keep rubbing their hands on a table, give them a cloth or duster.

Tip: Distraction techniques can be very useful if the behaviour is causing you too much stress. For example, try playing a favourite piece of music, or get out the photo albums, do craft activities together or life story work.

Golden rule: Generally speaking, it’s usually best to look beyond the behaviour itself to work out why it’s happening. Try noting down when repetitive behaviour seems to start and look for patterns. For example, do any particular events, activities or emotions make it worse? Does it happen at a particular time of day, or day of the week? The more you understand the reason behind the repetition, the easier it will be for you to cope with it. And with any luck, you might also be able to lessen the need for it too!