Doctor Explains The 2 Emotional Reasons Elderly People Repeat Themselves So Much

Your patience is important.

elderly woman talking Andrea Piacquadio /

Most of us have been there at one time or another—our elderly family member is telling the same old story again as if it's brand-new information. But according to a doctor who works with the elderly, there are important reasons for this, and how we respond makes a real difference.

The gerontologist shared 2 reasons elderly people repeat themselves so much:

Elderly people often have incredible stories to tell from the long, full lives they've led and the wisdom they've gleaned from them—and they often have a hilariously unfiltered take on the world.


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But if you spend a lot of time with aging relatives or family friends, you'll probably notice some patterns.

I'll never forget the time an elderly man in a hotel lobby just leaned over, apropos of nothing, and casually told me the story of how he escaped a concentration camp during the Holocaust as a four-year-old — or the moment his exasperated wife walked up and said, "Oh, THIS again. Sir, you don't have to listen to him." (She needn't have worried, I was hanging on every word, as one would!)


2 Reasons Elderly People Repeat Themselves So Much, According To A GerontologistPhoto: Andrea Piacquadio / Pexels

Then there was my grandmother, who would give very literal answers to the grocery cashier's "How are you today?" That often began with, "Well, honey, ever since they took my gall bladder I don't know whether I'm comin' or going."

These habits can be downright annoying to family members and caregivers — like that old man's wife or my mom, for instance. But gerontologist, Dr. Sondra Cradduck, owner of TLR Senior Home Care in Phelan, California, explained there are two important reasons seniors do this.


1. Dementia

Dementia, sadly, is increasingly common in the elderly. According to Alzheimer's Disease International, someone in the world develops dementia every three seconds, and there are more than 55 million people living with dementia today.

That number also doubles every 20 years, so by 2050, there will be some 139 million people suffering from the condition. 



Dementia and related conditions like Alzheimer's are progressive, meaning they worsen over time, and impact the brain's ability to think, reason, and remember.


Dr. Cradduck said this is one of the key reasons elderly people will repeat the same statements, stories, and questions over and over — they've simply forgotten they've told you due to the progression of the disease.

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2. 'Their world is small now'

"You take somebody that used to be the life of the party," Dr. Cradduck said in a recent TikTok, "and they're very conversive, and they're used to always having so much stuff to talk about, and you limit their world… Suddenly [they] only have five things that happened all week."



"And when you come around," she went on to explain, "I'm gonna talk to you about all five of those again and again and again, cause that's all that happened to me all week… and you will hear them over and over and over because their world is so small now."


I have an elderly aunt in her late 80s who's widowed, and I've lost count of how many times she's told me the same stories, worries, and mishaps over the nearly two years since my uncle passed.

Dr. Cradduck's explanation makes perfect sense. My aunt is sharp as a tack — dementia seems unlikely. But her world has absolutely shrunk since my uncle passed and his "life of the party" personality made her social circle contract.

"It's not that they're trying to bore you," Dr. Cradduck explained, "it's that they're trying to engage, and they're giving you all they've got left…. They're just trying to reconnect."

2 Reasons Elderly People Repeat Themselves So Much, According To A GerontologistPhoto: Paul Theodor Oja / Shutterstock


There's something heartbreaking about that of course. As one TikToker put it, "'They’re giving you all that they have left' just broke me."

"A lady at a thrift store talked to me for over 1.5 hours," another TikToker commented. "I engaged it because a feeling came over me to stay because she needed the connection."

This can all be frustrating for those of us on the receiving end, of course. But just as it's a privilege to grow old — because so many never do — it's likewise a privilege to be let into someone's world, no matter how small.


It gives us an opportunity to be the empathetic person who expands their world, even if it's only the few minutes it takes to hear some grandma's unsolicited story about her gall bladder when you're just trying to pay for your groceries. 

And if we can have the patience to just listen, we just might get something back — even if it's just a chuckle at the absurdity of it all. One day our worlds will get small, too, and all life really is, at the end of the day, is connection, however brief or loose. We might as well lean into it.

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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice, and human interest topics.