Help! He Repeats the Same Stories Over and Over Again!

If your loved-one’s dementia compels him to repeat statements or questions over and over again, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, all I can tell you is that you just have to listen. And then listen again and again – as if you’re hearing it for the first time.

Saying “You’ve already told me that!” doesn’t help.

You can try to redirect or change the subject, but for the most part, you just have to grin, bear it, and play along. It’s one of the rules in dementia-land.

It’s also one of the gifts.

My dad had a few stories he repeated. He told them in almost the exact same way every time; it was like listening to a recording.

His grandmother had 18 children. Only 12 of them survived to adulthood. Eleven of the twelve got married. Dad remembered the names of all those aunts and uncles, and to prove how good his memory was, he proceeded to recite them all.

Many days, I sat through this rather lengthy story two or three times in one hour. (I’m no saint. Notice I didn’t say I listened to the story every time!)

I tried to distract him and change the subject, but once he got started, there was no stopping him. For whatever reason, he needed to tell the story. The complete story. So I let him tell it – without interruption.

I learned to take a deep breath and put on my “Oh really? That’s fascinating” face until he was done.

Another of his oft-repeated stories involved listing the names and backstory of his entire high school graduating class which, mercifully, only comprised 17 people . . .

Deep breath. “Oh, really? That’s fascinating.”

But here’s the gift.

When my dad’s voice became so weak and unintelligible that no one else could understand him, I knew what he was saying. The rhythm and facial expressions that went with his stories were still there. Having heard them a hundred times already, I recognized enough to respond appropriately and to ask questions – even though I knew the answers.

A few days before Dad went on hospice, he was in the hospital, and I was sitting next to his bed talking with him. A nurse walked in and asked incredulously if I could actually understand what he was saying. I chuckled to myself, looked up at her and then began to tell her about Grandma’s 18 children . . .

As I told Dad’s story, his body relaxed and his face brightened with a smile. (He had a great smile!) If that isn’t a gift, I don’t know what is!

I like to think it gave my dad peace to know that his story – a story that had been so important to him – was being told . . . And, more importantly, that he had been heard and would not be forgotten.

I don’t know why his brain got stuck on certain, seemingly random memories/stories, but I thank God for the patience to listen to them over and over again and for the opportunity to repeat them when Dad couldn’t do it himself anymore.

Yes, the repetitive story syndrome will test your patience, but it’s a test worth enduring. It won’t last forever, and it may turn out to be one of the sweetest blessings of the journey.

One of Dad's aunts: When telling his

When telling his “aunt and uncles story,” my dad always made a point of saying that Aunt Nora was his father’s “little” sister. Then he waited for the obligatory chuckle when the fact was revealed that, although younger, Nora was actually bigger than her brother.

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6 responses to “Help! He Repeats the Same Stories Over and Over Again!

  1. At one point on my own Father’s journey, I heard the phrase “meet them on their journey.” Susan, what you have so eloquently described was joining your Dad on his journey and then assisting him in moving forward because you knew the man and the details of his journey intricately. What a blessing for both of you.

    An added bonus is that you have a stored up inventory of family history that you can share with others as well who may not have listened so attentively.

    • Thank you, Laura. Your’e always such an encouragement to me! As for listening attentively, I wish I would have known then what I know now. I did “ok,” but if I could go back in time, I would SAVOR the listening a little more.

  2. I’ve never thought of the repetition being a blessing until reading your post! That was awesome! I really appreciated the addition of Aunt Nora’s picture.

    • Believe me, it sure didn’t seem like a blessing while it was happening. It wasn’t until that day in the hospital that I realized what a gift I’d received. But now I know to look for the possibilities in even the most trying of circumstance.

  3. Thank you, This helped pass the time (while listening to the broken record stories) and made me feel less frustrated about being the one who has to listen.

    • It’s hard to understand – hard to believe – that they really don’t realize they’ve said the same thing over and over again, isn’t it! The brain works in mysterious ways. Hang in there.

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