One sign of the aging brain, even without dementia, is that people repeat themselves more often, especially when they tell stories. There are reasons for this that are not related to dementia, though of course with dementia, this tendency has a different root and is much more frequent. We'll discuss dementia shortly.
Why Would an Aging Person Repeat Stories if No Dementia is Present?
As we age, life takes on a different perspective. There's a human need to make sense of what has happened in one's past, and reflect on what will be our legacy. The added years give us a chance to view our past with distance and some perspective. Retelling stories about our past is one way to work through this process.
In other words, if your parents retell a story every now and then, and you think "I've heard that a hundred times," please have the patience to let them tell it again. Your elder is working through the past to find a sense of meaning. Elders often want, consciously or unconsciously, to figure out how events shaped their present, and will play into their future and beyond.
But That's Different Than When Someone has Dementia!
I wrote the information above because I feel that adult children, once they understand the importance of an elder retelling personal stories, will perhaps have more patience with their elders. I also would like younger folks to know that the fact that their elder repeats some stories doesn't necessarily mean the elder has dementia.
However, my heart does go out to the many of you who must listen to the same statement 20 times in an hour, because the parent or other loved one has dementia and has lost short-term memory. This short-term memory loss makes it impossible for the person with dementia to remember what they just said, so they say it again – and again – and again.
How Do Caregivers Handle This Repetition Without Losing Our Own Sanity?
You'd like me to give you a magic answer, I'm sure. If I had one, believe me, that knowledge would be a headline in the New York Times. Unfortunately, I don't. However, my instincts tell me this:
Try to understand. Your loved one isn't repeating statements to irritate you. Remember that this could be you one day. Your loved one can't remember giving you the message in his or her brain, so out it comes again – repeatedly. If you understand the reason for this behavior, you will likely find you can be less irritated and more patient.