Caring for a Parent with Dementia

Ask the Exerts by Barbara Roden

Q: My mom was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s -type dementia. She lives alone, so when I visit she is always very excited to see me. Over the course of my visits, she keeps repeating herself over and over. I tell her she’s already told me that, but then a little while later, she tells me again! How can I help her memory so she doesn’t keep repeating everything?

A: Unfortunately, you won’t be able to “help” her memory. It is a physical change, and currently there is no cure.

What you can change is how you react to her repetitive statements and questions. Repetitive behaviors are often caused by stress, anxiety, frustration, or fear. Your mom may be unsure of what’s happening, where she is, or what time of day it is. You can imagine how unsettling that might be.

Teepa Snow, M.S., an occupational therapist and dementia education expert has some good ideas how to react to your mom when she is repeating herself. In the early stages of dementia, your mom will likely have the greatest difficulty storing and recalling information. Some days may be clearer, and some days “their wiring won’t work,” says Snow.

Recognize that she is having trouble with her short-term memory. Let her know you understand she is having trouble and say you’re sorry about that, and then give her something to do to make her feel successful or helpful, like clipping coupons or folding laundry. This distraction may help break the repetitive cycle.

If you are traveling by car and the same statements keep coming making you feel frustrated, answer or react to your mom, and then engage in something else. Music will most likely be the most effective because, according to Snow, “music is one of the few retained skills in people who have dementia.” So get a CD of older music that will be familiar to your mom, and she may even sing along!

It can be challenging to continue to answer a question that’s being repeated over and over without becoming annoyed and letting it be heard in your voice. You are human, and your feelings are real. If you lose your patience, step out of the room or get a quick breath of fresh air. Forgive yourself, and then go back to your mom. With a little time for yourself, you can again handle your mom’s behavior with kindness.

Barbara Roden is owner and director of client relations at Senior Helpers of Farmington Hills and Grosse Pointe. Barbara is also a board member on the Alzheimer’s Association of the Greater Michigan Chapter. For more information, call 313.885.0600 or visit Senior Helpers is a member of The Family Center’s Association of Professionals.

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