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Ask an Expert: Repeating

Dear FCA:

My husband Ted had a series of mini-strokes. He can carry on a conversation some times. But other times I've noticed that Ted gets "stuck" on a subject and tends to repeat the same thing over and over again. He could ask when dinner is 25 times or more. It's so frustrating. I don't know what to do to get through to him. If I get angry, it just seems to make him upset too. Can you offer me any advice?


What you’ve described is a common phenomenon in persons with dementia or brain-impairing conditions like stroke or traumatic brain injury. It’s called “perseveration.”

Perseveration consists of repetitive comments, questions, or even actions (constant tugging at clothing, or rummaging through a purse or wallet). The person is not aware that he or she is repeating the same question or idea. It is more likely that poor short-term memory is the cause of the repeating. The person may be preoccupied with something, like when it’s time to eat, but feel uncomfortable or even anxious because he/she can’t remember when mealtime is.

One strategy in curbing perseveration is to distract the person. If your husband is anxious, try giving him something (non-dangerous) to hold in his hands. A change of activity is a good distraction. Going for a short walk could help. You can look to the possible root cause of his question. Could your husband be hungry? Try offering him a snack.

There is no one way to eliminate this problem; you may have to use a system of trial and error to see what works best. If your husband becomes agitated, it may be a good idea to review his medications with his doctor, to see if any drugs he may be taking could be contributing to the situation, or if a change in prescription could help resolve the agitation.

Lastly, it is important that you, as caregiver, recognize that your husband is not doing this on purpose. Getting some periodic respite (time off from caregiving) can help you cope with problem behaviors and help you keep your own cool.