Some people living with dementia can begin to show obsessive compulsive or repetitive behaviours. These can include a discomfort about things being out of order or a new ritualistic habit, such as repeatedly washing their hands.
For most people, these behaviours are still a little-known sign of dementia, with only 23% of people associating obsessive tendencies as a symptom of dementia. Hear from families and Care UK dementia experts about how to navigate obsessive tendencies in dementia in the video below.
People living with dementia can present repetitive behaviours, such as carrying out the same activity or asking the same questions over and over. They may also become obsessed with making their space clean and tidy. These are all signs of obsessive compulsive behaviour in dementia.
A few reasons behind repetitive behaviour in dementia, include:
There is sometimes comfort in doing things over and over again and that sense of repetitive action, and we do see it a lot with people living with dementia.Suzanne MumfordCare UK's Head of Nursing, Care and Dementia
At Care UK, we encourage repetitive actions rather than trying to stop them if they aren’t causing any harm. This is because they can provide the person with a sense of comfort and security.
Knowing a person’s life history is important, as they may carry out repetitive behaviours that would have been usual in a past career or routine. When we get to know individuals on a personal level, we can deliver person-centred care and engage residents with meaningful activities that keep their hands busy. For example, for someone who is running their hand over a table repeatedly, we might give them a cloth and ask them if they would like to help with the dusting.
If your loved one is repeating questions or actions, try to think about the reason behind their behaviour. Identifying triggers can help you understand if a certain environment, person or time of day is prompting their questions or concerns.
If they frequently ask about the time or date, give them a clock or calendar to display in a prominent location. If they seem anxious, try distracting them by engaging them in a meaningful activity, such as listening to music or looking through photos and reminiscing.
Communicating effectively with someone who is living with dementia can be a challenge, but try to stay calm and patient, and repeat an answer if you need to. Don’t argue, and try to meet your loved one in their reality.
Read more tips for talking to someone living with dementia.
We want to get the nation talking about dementia and some of the most difficult topics associated with the condition. Explore more articles in our online advice hub to take a closer look at the less-talked-about symptoms of dementia and how to navigate them. You can also discover more advice and support on our dementia help & advice page.