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.

Looking for Diamonds in Dementia

During the worst of my father’s dementia, I longed for an easier, less stressful existence. There were many times I wanted to turn my back on the situation, but I was committed to him and his well-being, so walking away was not an option.

A story called “Acres of Diamonds” helped me through some of those tough times. In the story, a hard-working farmer, wishing for a leisurely life of riches, sold his farm so he could to go out and search for a diamond mine. The guy who bought the farm discovered that his newly-purchased land happened to contain one of the richest diamond mines on the continent. Without realizing it, the first man had owned acres of diamonds and walked away from riches beyond his imagination.

With that in mind, I constantly looked for and found diamonds in my dad’s dementia. Here are just a few.

• His illness opened doors for me to reconnect with relatives and family friends I hadn’t seen in years. Some the most meaningful support and encouragement I got during that time came from those people.

• Dad had always been busy working and had never told me much about his childhood. The forced slow-down of his illness created an opportunity for me to enjoy extended, one-on-one time with him when he could share those stories.

• In public situations when Dad’s testy behaviors could have caused people to react with annoyance or impatience, I was surprised by their compassion and willingness to help. Again and again, I was humbled and deeply touched by the kindness of strangers.

My challenge to you: Whatever difficulty you may be experiencing, look around and see what diamonds you can find right where you are.

Licking My Wounds

I haven’t posted anything new the past couple weeks.

It would be easy to say it was because of Christmas and everything that comes with the holidays. But actually, I was less stressed about Christmas and holiday busyness than usual this year.

No, the reason I haven’t written anything is that I’ve been feeling so beat up and worn down by all the stuff associated with my dad’s dementia.

For too many weeks, I’ve felt like I’m under attack (mostly by my dad – but also by a few other people with questionable motives) and I just needed some time to lick my wounds and recuperate for a while.

Prayer has been my refuge. I’ve also been blessed with encouragement from friends and family. And, of course, there is the new year to look forward to.

Due to the fact that I’m very much an early to bed – early to rise kind of gal, New Year’s Eve is probably my least favorite “event” of the year. I do not like staying up till midnight and having to pretend I’m having fun doing it.  😉

However, I love New Year’s Day. It’s a great big clean slate and fresh start! I know that every day offers a new beginning, but New Year’s Day just seems like a gigantic “re-set” button. And I’m really ready for a fresh start!

So, I’m excited to welcome the new year.

Dad’s dementia (and all the problems surrounding it) isn’t likely to disappear (I won’t totally write off the possibility of a miracle!), but I look forward to all that I will learn, strengthening my faith that I’m doing the best I can for my dad, and the deepening of relationships as we travel this journey together.

Wishing you a happy, healthy, hope-filled 2013!

With lots of love,

Susan

 

My dad and mom with our relatives Marie & Gerti at a roadside rest near Salzburg. I believe this was taken in 1968.

My dad and mom with our relatives Marie & Gerti at a roadside rest near Salzburg. I believe this was taken in 1968.

The Person is the Priority

The stuff of dealing with a serious disease can overshadow the person – at a time when the person really needs to be seen and acknowledged.

I wrote these words in my notes during a class about supporting people with cancer. A lot of what I learned at that seminar is applicable to dementia, but this note about the “stuff” (the business and busy-ness) of dealing with an illness stands out as particularly relevant.

This year, with my father’s dementia placing me in the position of having responsibility for his care, I’ve felt like I’ve been drowning in the “stuff” of paperwork and phone calls.

The process of getting up to speed with his bank accounts and insurance policies . . . Figuring out who’s who on his medical/care team . . . Updating family and friends about his situation . . . Plus all the issues of his pending divorce . . . It’s been a full time job.

My challenge is to remember that all this stuff, important as it is, has to be kept in perspective. It all needs to be done. Much of it is urgent. But I cannot let it overshadow the person that I’m doing it for!

My dad has had his life stripped away. His independence. His sense of purpose. They’re gone. Dementia has changed his world.

He needs to know he is still important. He needs to know he is loved. As much as it is possible, that is my priority.

Frankly, the “stuff” is easier to deal with than Dad is. Recently, he’s been accusing me – and others – of all manner of plotting, incompetence and evil-doing. So, today, I’d rather sit down and balance his checkbook than talk with him.

But he is my dad, and he has been a good, generous, hard-working person all of his life. He deserves to be acknowledged, appreciated and loved for who he is –  now more than ever.

My dad takes me and our little dog Trixi for a wagon ride (1964-ish)

My dad takes me and our little dog Trixi for a wagon ride (1964-ish)