We all do it – looping that is – repeating ourselves – going around and around in circles. Small children do it enthusiastically. “Again! Again!” they shout. That is how they learn – how they integrate new information. It is a natural stage of the developing brain.
I know I do it – repeat myself – especially with my husband. He complains, “You already said that. You are repeating yourself!” I blame him – because he acts like he isn’t listening – so I repeat myself because I think I haven’t been heard.
People repeat themselves for many reasons. The looping is a way of processing – of trying to resolve a problem. We go over it again and again until it makes sense. In older adults it also can be a function of memory. Often they will forget who they told the story to. Sometimes it can be a result of dementia. Unfortunately, many professionals may assume dementia which may not be true and can be unfair to the older adult.
My mother recently lost her car keys – and became obsessed about finding them. She would tell me the story over and over again. Every conversation was the same – chastising herself for losing her keys – about where she looked or still needs to look – about what to do about the situation. “Mom” I said exasperated. Can’t we talk about something else? “I know” she said. “I just can’t stop obsessing about it.”
This came up the other day in my writing class. We were discussing ways to get more people to come to the class. One student made a suggestion that we come up with a new name for the class. “I don’t like ‘creative writing’ she said. It scares people away. It makes people think they have to write something in order to come when they can just tell their story or listen.”
“What names would you suggest?” I asked her. “Maybe Communication RoundTable” she offered. “It’s about communicating with each other – telling our stories.” The other students were nodding their heads in agreement.
“Thank you”, I answered.” I think coming up with a new name is a good idea.” Someone else said something and our attention turned towards them for a few minutes. Then my student said “I think we need to come up with a new name for the class.”
“I think that is a good idea” I told her. I looked at the other students who pulled back to let me handle it. They were patient. This is a challenge for many residents who live in assisted living. The conversations go round and round and this can be hard for someone who is tracking well.
“Seniors often know that their memory and cognitive and physical abilities are declining, and reminders are only hurtful,” says Francine Lederer, a psychotherapist in Los Angeles… When people first start “slipping,” they are aware of the loss, and they are often terrified, scared and saddened.
I try to be patient with my students and also respectful. I don’t want to embarrass them I try to redirect them – change the subject – much as you would with a younger child.
Regarding my student who suggested we change the name of the class, I was surprised by her repetition. She had not done that in previous weeks and I think this came from a genuine desire to help get more people to attend the class. She was obsessing on a thought and losing track of how many times she said it. The next week the looping was gone. We did change the name, by the way. We now call the class “Creative Writing and Storytelling” and we have had 3 new students join our class as a result.