Why Do People With Dementia Repeat Themselves?

Home Care Services, Melville, NY

Dementia is a term used to describe a cognitive impairment.  Dementia can cause a variety of symptoms including short-term memory loss, poor judgment, loss of language and verbal skills, and confusion with time and/or place.

There are many forms of dementia including vascular dementia, Lewy Body dementia, frontotemporal, and Alzheimer’s disease.  An evaluation by a neurologist could help a person determine which form of dementia that he/she has.  The prognosis for each type of dementia is a little different and affects the person differently.  Below is a summary of each form of dementia and its effects on the person’s cognitive functioning.

Vascular Dementia
Commonly develops after a stroke blocks an artery in your brain.  Affects cognitive functions with reasoning and judgment.  In later stages, it will affect memory.


Lewy Body Dementia
The second most progressive type of dementia after Alzheimer’s disease.  It affects thinking, memory, and movement (motor control).  Lewy Body dementia may present similar effects to Parkinson’s disease, causing rigid muscles, slow movement, and tremors.


Frontotemporal Dementia
Affects the areas of the brain responsible for personality, behavior, and language.  Some people with frontotemporal dementia experience dramatic changes in their personality and become socially inappropriate, impulsive, or emotionally indifferent.  Other lose the ability to use language properly.   Frontotemporal dementia is often misdiagnosed as a psychiatric problem or as Alzheimer’s disease.


Alzheimer’s Disease
A progressive form of dementia that affects, memory, thinking, and behavior.  Symptoms include serious memory loss, disorientation, mood and behavior changes, deepening confusion about events, time, and place, unfound suspicions about family and friends, and difficulty speaking, swallowing, and walking.

Mixed Dementia
A form of dementia in which brain changes come from more than one cause.  For example, a person with mixed dementia could have brain changes linked to Alzheimer’s disease, vascular dementia, and Lewy Body dementia.

One of the most concerning symptoms of dementia for family members and caregivers is when the person repeats a statement, question, or behavior frequently.  For example, when a person living with dementia keeps asking, “can I go home”, while he or she is already at home.

Repetitive behaviors are caused by a few factors. 

  1. Anxiety or fear about something. When the person living with dementia feels insecure or anxious about something in the environment, he or she may engage in repetitive behaviors.  This could be caused by something as simple as being in a new place or in the company of a new person.  It can also be caused by Sundowning syndrome which occurs when the daytime transitions to evening hours causing the person with dementia to feel anxious and fearful.
  2. Urinary tract infections. A UTI could cause repetitive behavior if the person with dementia is experiencing pain and discomfort and is unable to verbally express it.   Urinary tract infections can also cause an extreme exacerbation of dementia symptoms including, hallucinations, delusions, and aggressive or violent behavior.
  3. The person needs help. A person with dementia may repeat themselves when they need help with something but do not have the ability to ask for it.  For example, the person may feel hungry but does not remember how to cook dinner.

The Alzheimer’s Association provides the following recommendations on how to respond to repetitive behaviors (https://www.alz.org/help-support/caregiving/stages-behaviors/repetition).

  • Look for a reason behind the repetition. Does the repetition occur around certain people or surroundings, or at a certain time of day? Is the person trying to communicate something?
  • Focus on the emotion, not the behavior. Rather than reacting to what the person is doing, think about how he or she is feeling.
  • Turn the action or behavior into an activity. If the person is rubbing his or her hand across the table, provide a cloth and ask for help with dusting.
  • Stay calm, and be patient. Reassure the person with a calm voice and gentle touch. Don’t argue or try to use logic; Alzheimer’s affects memory, and the person may not remember he/she asked the question already.
  • Provide an answer. Give the person the answer that he or she is looking for, even if you have to repeat it several times. If the person with dementia is still able to read and comprehend, it may help to write it down and post it in a prominent location.
  • Engage the person in an activity. The individual may simply be bored and need something to do. Provide structure and engage the person in a pleasant activity.
  • Use memory aids. If the person asks the same questions over and over again, offer reminders by using notes, clocks, calendars or photographs, if these items are still meaningful.
  • Accept the behavior, and work with it. If it isn’t harmful, don’t worry about it. Find ways to work with it.
  • Share your experience with others. Join ALZConnected, our online support community and message boards, and share what response strategies have worked for you and get more ideas from other caregivers.