An older male and adult female face each other, the man has a speech bubble coming from his mouth that is shaped like an infinity symbol and wraps around them both, the woman is recording him speaking on her phone

Same Old Story: My Experience with Conversation Repetition, Looping with Dementia

The other day I was reminiscing on some photos of my family. I ran across a photo of my dad from the Korean war. This triggered memories for me. My dad proudly served in the Korean War long before I was born.

However, how is it that I feel like I know so much about his time there? The short answer is that I walked alongside my dad as he battled through dementia and his Alzheimer's diagnosis.

Familiar story

When you walk alongside a loved one with dementia, it is not uncommon to hear them tell the same story over and over. My dad's long-term memory was operating extremely well. Unfortunately, his short-term memory was not working as well.  If I am being fully transparent, hearing the same story on repeat would frustrate me to no end.

Change in perspective

I stepped back from the exhaustion I was experiencing as a caregiver. Really, I tried to understand why this was happening.  His short-term memory area in his brain was being impacted by the progression of the disease. This left him only able to discuss the memories he could remember. Those were the ones he could retrieve from his long-term memory.

Coping with dad's repetition, conversation looping

My dad loved to talk about his days serving in the war. The more the disease progressed, the more noticeable the repetition of his stories became. Not going to lie; it was a lot to take in on some days.

However, I tried my best to listen to his stories and look him in the eyes when he told them. Often times I held his hands and reassured him that I loved him and was there to listen. He would squeeze my hands. I realized that recognizing and validating someone where they are at matters.

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Storytime videos

I started to ask his permission to video him talking and telling his story. Honestly, I knew, as frustrated as I was at times, that one day I would want to hear his stories again.

During his story time videos, I would allow him to tell his story. I would wait for a pause in his story and then ask a simple and concise question to him. I took the opportunity to take his continual conversation repetition and looping as an opportunity to learn more about him. Tap into the memories he was able to retrieve.

Learning about dad

One day I asked my dad why he chose to serve in the Air Force. He said he loved his country and liked the color of the Air Force uniforms. I then directed the conversation to the Purple Heart he was awarded for his service in Korean War. Dad started to talk about a very specific day during the war that he hadn't talked about before.

By the end of the conversation, we both had tears in our eyes. I learned in great detail why he was awarded the Purple Heart. Thankful to him for sharing not only his history with me but also a piece of history from the Korean War. What a blessing he was to me and so many others. So very proud he was my dad!

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