The Perseveration (Getting Stuck) That Comes With Memory Disease

Perseveration is not a symptom of memory disease, it is related behavior. The Alzheimer’s Association defines perseveration as “repetitive movements or persistence in statements or questions.” Caregivers need to understand the cause of perseveration and describes it clearly.

According to Alzheimer’s United Kingdom, the frontal lobes of the brain have several parts that work together “to form our executive or management center.” Damage to this area of the brain causes people to “get stuck on what they are doing.”

My mother got stuck on sentences. She would call and announce, “I want to go to the store.” I would tell her we had just been to the store. Though Mom did not remember she would say, “I know, but I need to go again.” I could not take her to the store every time she asked so Mom was often mad at me.

My mother got stuck on purchases. After she was transferred to nursing care I cleaned out her apartment and found a box under a chest of drawers. The box was filled with panty hose — dozens and dozens of pairs — in different shades and sizes. Mom had so many pairs of panty hose she could have opened a store.

Mom got stuck on gestures. When she was in the middle stage of dementia my mother started wiping her eyebrow with her hand. At first, I thought she had something in her eye, but soon recognized this as a repetitive gesture. She would repeat the gesture four or five times in a row.

Mom got stuck on stories. “When we lived on 259th street,” she would begin, and then I would hear the story. I heard the stories so many times it is a wonder I did not join in like a member of a Greek chorus. You understand perseveration is if your loved one has memory disease. You can’t stop the progression of the disease. What can you do?

1. STEP AWAY. Walk away for a minute or two and regain your patience. Remember, you are dealing with someone who has a damaged brain.

2. CHANGE THE SUBJECT. The nursing home my mother was in would divert agitated residents with music or a story.

3. PROVIDE A DRINK/SNACK. People with memory disease may not realize they are thirsty. Offering your loved one a cool drink or a healthy snack may stop his or her perseveration.

4. ADD MOVEMENT. Suggest a short walk around the block or to the end of the hall. Most nursing homes have regular physical activities for residents, such as catching a ball or stretching in place.

5. REASSURE WITH GESTURES. Give the person a hug or a pat on the hand. Do not approach the person from the rear, however, because it could frighten them. You may also comfort the person with a throw or extra sweater. Perseveration can try your patience, but patience and time will get you through these difficult days.

Copyright 2006 by Harriet Hodgson