Demonstration demo – Repetitive Actions Full Solution

Repetitive Actions

Assisting a person who repeats themselves constantly or performs actions over and over can be a challenge. Watch the video below to see examples of how to manage this situation. 

Below the video you will find lists of potential root causes or reasons that a person may be behaving this way. 

Root Causes

Click on the question if you feel it could apply to your situation to see the associated answer.

Health & Physical Related Causes and Possible Solutions

Medication can be a cause of repetitive actions, particularly movements. Actions such a sticking the tongue in and out and other repetitive  movements can be caused by certain medications. Speak to their physician about the medications they are taking to see if this could be a possible cause.

Consider the possibility that they could be suffering from a bruise, an infection such as a urinary tract infection, constipation or other pain or illnesses. Remember that they may be unable to express their discomfort, therefore, you may need to look for clues and possibly work with a healthcare professional to help determine potential causes.  

People with dementia are often unable to identify or express hunger. This inability often leads to repetitive actions which could be seen as tapping on a table or saying the same thing over and over.  Repeating a question such as “What’s for dinner?” may also be a clue.  Keep track of the last time they ate and how much was actually consumed.

Are they pulling or tugging on their cloths repetitively? These actions could be a sign that they are uncomfortable. Try changing their clothing if possible and see if that improves things.

People with dementia may not remember that they have already asked the same question many times. This can be very frustrating for caregivers. Strategies for coping include:

  1. Remember that they are not repeating things on purpose, so try to always respond in a calm, gentle voice, no matter how frustrated you become.
  2. Do not remind them that they have already asked you the same question.
  3. Use written reminders for people who can still read. Make sure print is large enough for them to see, possibly much larger than you think it needs to be.
  4. Use pictures to remind them if they can no longer read. A large picture of the toilet can help them find the bathroom.

Task & Activity Related Causes and Possible Solutions

Are they pulling or tugging on their cloths repetitively? These actions could be a sign that they need to use the bathroom or have had an accident.

Environmental Causes And Possible Solutions

Items such as coats, hats, purses etc. may trigger questions such as “Is it time to leave now”. Removing those triggers may help alleviate the problem.

Communication & Understanding Related Causes and Possible Solutions

Sometimes repetitive questions or actions may be a cry for reassurance. Try a gentle touch or hug if they are Ok with being touched. Reassure them that everything is OK.

  1. Written reminders can tell them when a person is coming. These can be a note of when a loved one is returning home or marking a calendar when someone is coming to visit.
  2. A video or audio tape of the person they are looking for can be helpful. While this can be a great help, it can also cause confusion.
  3. Video chat can also be used to allow sight and conversation with a person.

For some people, ignoring the repetitive action may be possible and will stop the repetition. However, ignoring a person can also lead to greater agitation and other problems.

While in the past it was customary to tell them of future events, you may need to evaluate continuing to do so. If this contributes to cause stress, anxiety or excitement, it may be better to tell them closer to the actual event happening.  Anticipating an event can cause repetitive questions.

Questions such as “What is happening?”  or “What are you doing?” can be a sign that they are not understanding what is taking place around them. Reassure them that everything is OK and explain what is taking place. You can also try giving them something to hold in their hands as this can also be reassuring and distracting.

Repetitive questions can be a sign of an emotion that they are unable to express. Try responding to the emotion (if you can figure it out) rather than the question. Something like “I will always be here for you” may proved more comfort to a scared person than answering the question they are asking over and over.

Repetitive actions or questions can be a sign that they need attention. Try involving them in activities which they enjoy and make them feel useful. Playing music or going for a walk may also be helpful.

Sometimes people with dementia may repeat a word over and over, however no one knows what it means.  Try talking to family members or old friends from their youth if possible and ask them if they know what that word could mean. Possibly it is an old girlfriend, a pet or childhood friends nickname.

Other Tips

  • Try keeping a journal to see if there is a trigger or other cause of the actions. Play detective to see if any clues emerge. Does it happen at a certain time of day? Is a particular person present or have they had a discussion with someone? Are they agitated and if so, what caused the agitation?
  • If repeating an incomplete task over and over, try the following:
    • Use visual cues and touch to help them get to the next step. As an example, touch the leg that goes into the pants, then point to the pant leg.
    • Do not make the person feel rushed. Allow enough time for them to ge the action completed.
    • Be aware that disrupting them while doing a respective movement may cause agitation.

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