Dementia Communication: How to Respond to Conversation Loops

A man uses strategies to avoid conversation loops when talking to his father with dementia.
Discover tips on how to navigate conversation loops when speaking to a loved one with Alzheimer’s.

If you have ever played music on vinyl records, you know that the needle does not always track smoothly. Occasionally, a tiny piece of dust or debris may cause it to get stuck or skip, leaving you hearing only a few words of the song over and over again until the problem is addressed.

In Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, memory blips can cause a similar effect described as conversation looping. Typically occurring in mild and moderate stages of the disease, it may look like this:

    • You are having an engaging conversation about your favorite sports team’s recent win.
    • The person with Alzheimer’s suddenly changes gears and asks you if you have finished your homework.
    • Understanding it’s important to step into an alternative reality or time frame with the person, you respond that all of your homework is done.
    • You then resume the conversation about the amazing play that clinched the win.
    • The other person asks again if you have finished your homework.

What’s the Best Way to Handle Conversation Looping?

It helps to start by understanding why the behavior is occurring. We all experience repetition to varying degrees. We might forget that we have told a person a specific story or memory and tell them again. We also may repeat a question we have in mind, unsure whether we actually asked the question or simply just thought about it. These kinds of situations occur when we are not completely focused or paying close enough attention to the environment around us.

In contrast, conversation loops in Alzheimer’s can occur as frequently as every couple of minutes. Professor of Psychology at Western Washington University Ira E. Hyman, Jr., Ph.D., states that with cognitive impairment, “…the work of binding the elements of an experience into a personal memory is disrupted.”

It’s important to understand that correcting someone with dementia is never an effective tactic. Understanding that, it is a good idea to continue to respond to the individual’s repetitive story or question, keeping your answer brief. You can then change the topic to something you know is of specific interest to them now or was important to them during their younger years, as long-term memories stay intact much longer than more recent ones.

How a Specialized Dementia Caregiver Can Help

With so many challenging symptoms and behaviors to manage, caring for an individual with dementia on your own can be daunting. Our caregivers are especially trained in effective approaches to managing the difficulties experienced in dementia. Let us partner with you to ensure the highest quality care for someone you love.

Whether you are struggling with sundowning, wandering, aggression, hallucinations, or other complications a family member is experiencing from dementia, Serenity Home Care is here to help. Contact us online or call us any time at 250.590.8098 for more information on our expert dementia care, available throughout Victoria, Oak Bay, Saanich, as well as the surrounding areas.