There are many different types of behavioral changes in dementia, and repetitive behavior is one of them. Patients may repeat the same question or statement, perform the same movement, or carry out the same activity over and over again. This may provide them with a sense of security, which can ease anxiety. It may also be a way for the patient to make sense of their environment or surroundings.
Repetition often results from the fact that the person does not remember they already performed that action or asked that question, so they keep repeating it.
There are many different causes for repetitive behavior in dementia including:
Memory loss: The ability to remember what a person has just said or asked becomes lost as dementia progresses.
Inability to understand what is happening: Simple everyday tasks may become unfamiliar, so the patient keeps asking the questions to better understand the situation.
Inability to understand a need or emotion: Expressing a need or emotion may become increasingly difficult, so the patient may use other means to convey a message. For example, they may pull off their shirt if they are too hot rather than voicing the issue.
Frustration: Frustration can arise when the patient feels as if what they are trying to say is misunderstood or is misinterpreted, so they repeat themselves to get the message across.
Stress and anxiety: Inability to interpret images and sounds can raise stress and anxiety. The patient may not be able to remember what just occurred.
Boredom: Repetitive behavior may be used as a means of stimulating oneself in case of boredom.
Side effects of medication: In some cases, repetitive behavior may be a side effect of some medications.
Dealing with repetitive behavior in dementia can be challenging, but there are ways to cope. For starters, remain calm. Reacting negatively can worsen the behavior. Eliminate any triggers that may be setting off this behavior. For example, if having shoes near the door prompts the patient to ask whether people are leaving, remove the shoes.
It is also advisable to keep a calm, non-distracting environment, write down repeated questions and have the answers to these questions posted around the house (for example, a post-it explaining what time the dinner is), think of different memory aids to prompt a patient’s memory so they don’t repeat themselves, and above all, work closely with their doctor to determine if the repetitive behavior is a result of a medication the patient is taking.