“I Already Told You That”- When Memory Affects Communication
For those living with MCI, it’s a common issue to repeat questions or stories due to your short term memory problem. At times you may be aware that you are repeating yourself, but since you can’t recall the answer, you ask the question again. Other times you may not be aware that you’ve asked the question before, but you sense the frustration in your loved one based on his/her response: “I already told you that!”
Here are some tips for you and your loved one to consider in tackling this difficult problem for both of you.
Your loved one may not always understand MCI, or may lack patience with your memory loss. Some people get frustrated when they are asked the same question again because they may assume that the person they responded to was not listening or paying attention to their response. This is not the necessarily the case with MCI.
Since memory problems are mild in MCI, and you may still be very independent, your partner may on occasion forget that you have a short term memory problem. However, it’s not a “selective hearing” problem, or you’re “trying to be difficult” problem, it’s a memory problem. If you believe they get frustrated or angry with you when they remind you that you’ve already asked the question, you may have hurt feelings. Or, you may feel embarrassed, sad, frustrated, anxious, depressed, etc. Your memory may be impaired, but your feelings and emotions are not.
Neither of you can change MCI, but you can change your response to it.
Care partners may need some guidance in adjusting their communication with you. Some care partners may suggest you “try harder” to remember, or will quiz you, or give you vague hints in hopes that you’ll remember. Be patient with them because these old techniques of exercising your memory may have worked in the past, but they no longer do. Talk to your partner about your needs and what they can specifically do to better communicate with you. We offer these tips:
Communication tips for repeating questions:
- Ask your partner to repeat the answer to a question as if you had asked it for the first time. Saying, “I already told you that!” can just upset everyone involved.
- Encourage your partner to face you when you are speaking to one another. Don’t talk to each other when you are walking away or when you are in different rooms.
- Minimize and/or omit distractions and noise during a conversation. Remind your partner to turn off the television or stop their activity while you are having an important conversation.
- If you are a HABIT alumni, use your Memory Support System (MSS) to write things down that your partner says. Refer to your MSS (blue book/calendar) multiple times a day and search for the answer there before asking your partner. If your partner notices that you’ve asked the same question a few times, allow them to encourage you to write that information in your MSS.
- Tell your care partners to be brief and specific with the information they are communicating to you.
- Let your care partner know you need time to respond. Ask them to give you a moment, instead of interrupting or finishing your sentence.
- Try to tackle one topic or task at a time. Write down the details of that topic or task before moving on to the next one. If you have many tasks to complete, make a list and pick one task to work on at a time. If you are using your MSS, use the scheduled events/appointments or to-be-done list to record and/or break down tasks.
- Check in with your care partner after the conversation—are you both on the same page? Do you know what the other person is trying to convey?
- Speak kindly to yourself (and your care partner) when you are struggling. Being harsh with yourself is not going to help you recall the information any better or any faster. It will only make you feel worse emotionally. Have compassion for yourself and speak to yourself as you would a dear friend.
- MCI is causing the memory issues. So, remind yourself and others that it is not your fault when you don’t remember.
Learning new behaviors can take time to master. So if your partner messes up, please forgive them, because they too are learning. If you and your partner are struggling to communicate, you may want to consider getting help through an MCI support group or a partner support group. You can contact your local Alzheimer’s Association for MCI support 1(800)272-3900.