Answering the same questions over and over: how to talk to people with dementia

O’Connor, C.M. & Low, L-F. The Conversation. Published online: 8 August 2016

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What is the best way to respond?

First, it’s important to stay calm. If you get upset, the person with dementia may too. Remind yourself that the person isn’t asking the questions to annoy you, but because they have a condition that causes damage to their brain.

Try to understand if there is an underlying need the person is expressing through their question. Are they anxious, worried, confused, hungry, tired?

You should respond in a way that works with the person’s current reality and frame of mind. For example, if the person believes their long-deceased husband is still alive, asking them a question such as “what does your husband do for work?” is more likely to calm the person down than if you remind them he has passed away.

It’s also good to use the environment to support your answer. For instance, in the first example above, the wife could buy a calendar, a clock, and a whiteboard, and set them up in the kitchen where they will be seen by her husband every morning. Appointments can be written on the calendar, and the whiteboard could be updated with the day, date, and schedule for the day.

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