Your Questions

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My husband/father/wife/mother keeps asking the same question over and over again. I try to be patient and be responsive, but it is starting to drive me crazy. What can I do?
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Repetitive questioning often is caused by a combination of factors. These include an inability to remember the answer you said to them combined with a worry or a need to have the answer to the question. When you just say the answer, it is difficult for them to remember what you said after time has passed, but the worry or need remains, and so they ask again. If you say that you already gave them the answer, this can frustrate them if they cannot remember that event. They may think (or even say) that you are lying or ignoring them. Also, it can become easy to think that they are just doing this to get on your nerves.

Since simply telling them the answer is not working, we must try another approach. One that works for many people is this:

  1. Find the answer that they are looking for. This is the response that meets their needs or calms them. For example, the question might be “When is Jim coming?” and the answer that they are looking for might be “Tuesday afternoon” or “after dinner.”
  2. If they can read, write the answer to the question on the index card. Ideally, have the person with dementia write the answer, as they may recognize and trust their own handwriting better than yours. If they cannot write the answer, try to have them write their name or initials to verify the truth of the answer.
  3. Ask them what they should call this card. Print their label for the card at the top and bottom of the card, and always refer to the card using their label. (An example of such a card is printed below.)
  4. Always keep the card in the same location. Try to attach it with Velcro or a string to the table or place it is kept to make it difficult to move.
  5. You may want to laminate it, and to make extra copies in case it is lost or taken away and misplaced by the person with dementia.
  6. The next time they ask the question say, “I think that there’s a message about that on the _____ (use their label for the card). Let’s go see.”
  7. Bring them to the card and point to it and say “What does that say?” Have them read the answer to their question. Then say, “That’s right. Whenever you want to know about ______ (their question; such as “John’s visit” in the example card), here is the answer.”
  8. Have them read the answer to their question. Then say, “That’s right. Whenever you want to know about ______ (their question; such as “John’s visit” in the example card), here is the answer.”
  9. When they ask the question again, use this exact same procedure. It is important to do the same thing every time. This also is true of other family members or persons who are asked the question. Everyone must use the same words and procedures. In many persons with dementia, if they get practice with the same procedure each time they ask the question they can learn to go to the location and look for themselves when their need or worry about the answer to their question starts to rise. If they can find the answer for themselves, it reassures them and keeps you from having to answer the question all the time.

In many persons with dementia, if they get practice with the same procedure each time they ask the question they can learn to go to the location and look for themselves when their need or worry about the answer to their question starts to rise. If they can find the answer for themselves, it reassures them and keeps you from having to answer the question all the time.

JOHN'S VISIT CARD
John Comes on Tuesday Afternoon.
(or in their handwriting)
John comes on Tuesday Afternoon.
C.C. (sign their initials or name)
JOHN'S VISIT CARD

What if they keep asking whether something has happened or not?
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We can use a similar procedure as the one above. For example, if a person keeps asking if they have taken their pills, you can do this:

  1. Create a card like the one just below with the persons with dementia:
    MY PILL MARKER
    C.C. Morning Pills
    ___ Afternoon Pills
    ___ Bedtime Pills
    MY PILL MARKER
  2. Be sure to use their term for the card, such as “My Pill Marker” or whatever they want to call it.
  3. When they take their pills, have them put their initials down next to the time they took the pills.
  4. When they write their initials, point to the initials and say “This means that you’ve taken your pills. Now, what does this mean?”
  5. Have them give you the answer “I’ve taken my pills.”
  6. It is important that they practice remembering this successfully. That is why you give them the answer before you ask the question.
  7. Later, when they ask if they have taken their pills this morning say “I think that there’s a message about that on the _____ (use their label for the card). Let’s go see.”
  8. When you go to the card, ask the person to read the label (such as “My Pill Marker”).
  9. Then, point to their initials and say “What does this mean?”
  10. Only wait for 2 or 3 seconds if they do not know or do not answer, and then say “This means that you’ve taken your pills. Now, what does this mean?”
  11. Have them give you the answer “I’ve taken my pills.”
  12. If they give the answer right away, or once they give the answer after you say it to them first, say ““That’s right. Whenever you want to know about ______ (their question; such as taking their pills in the example card), here is the answer.”
  13. Again, it is important to use the same procedure consistently by everyone who is asked the question.
  14. Over time, with practice, the person can learn to reassure themselves. This approach can be used to let a person know if lunch or dinner has been served, if an activity has or has not occurred, to let them know where they are in the schedule of the day, etc.

What if they have trouble walking or going to a location?
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You can attach the card to their walker or wheelchair with a string and use the same approach.

What if they are blind or do not know how to read?
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If they can hear, you can store the answer to their question on a recording device and then have them come to that location and press the button that plays the answer to their question. It helps to make it easy to know the right button, so you can make it a different color or put sandpaper on it so that it is easy to know which button to press to get the answer. You would use a similar procedure as was described above to give the person practice.

A Different Visit

A Different Visit

Hiding the Stranger in the Mirror

Hiding the Stranger in the Mirror

Montessori Methods for Dementia

Montessori Methods for Dementia