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Challenging behaviour — again and again and again

05 Aug 2007
Bonnie Sandler, S.W., The Senior Times - July/August 2007

Caregivers for Alzheimer affected individuals know how many challenging behaviours there are to deal with. They face them daily. Every caregiver will have a different tolerance level for each situation. One behaviour caregivers say drives them over the edge is verbal repetition.

Imagine you are alone in your home as the primary caregiver for your loved one — more than a full time task. He asks you “what time is it?” You reply “it’s 2 pm.” At two minutes after 2, you are asked the same question. You reply “You just asked me the time and I told you it is 2 pm.” Now, three minutes later, you are asked the same question. Your patience is wearing thin. You have been in this situation before and know the same question will be asked many more times.

You try writing down the time and hand him the paper. You place a clock in front of him. You ask him something off topic hoping to change his focus. Nothing works. He follows you out of the room. You feel the tension building within you. There is no one to help you out. You want to escape, cry or scream. You feel like this will never end. You hear yourself yelling at him. You have lost control. You see the hurt and confusion on his face. Now you feel guilty. You understand this is part of his illness and feel you should have been able to handle the situation. You run to the bathroom to cry. We all have our breaking points and lash out when frustrated and angry.

Repetition is a common behaviour in people suffering from AD/RD. This example is of verbal repetition but there are also repetitious actions. Some caregivers find it easier to deal with repetitive actions since they can leave the room when the person seems to be ‘stuck’ on a particular activity, such as folding tissues.

With verbal repetition, the person may have no memory of asking the question. So he asks it again, and again. It may be indicative of his insecurity and fear of his confusing world. Whatever the reason, we need to understand he is not doing any of this on purpose.

The caregiver can try writing the time on a piece of paper, ignoring the question, or distracting the person with an activity. All of this may or may not work. Ignoring the person could also cause agitation and anger. You have to try different strategies to see what works. Sometimes the person will respond to gentle reassurance.

The repetition may indicate that the person is worried about not being able to express a feeling.

Try sitting with him to relax him, offering an arm or a reassuring hug. Compliment him.

And forgive yourself for losing your cool.


Bonnie Sandler

Residential Real Estate Broker, Housing Consultant for Seniors

514 497-3775