DEAR ABBY: I just read the letter from “Pete and Repeat in Ohio” whose in-laws constantly repeat themselves. My mother-in-law does the same thing. She’s 61 and has done it for at least 10 years. I do not believe it’s a sign of early dementia, but it drives me crazy.

I think the reason is she cannot stand silence. If there is a pause in the conversation, she is compelled to fill it with endless drivel about herself or family that’s been told 100 times before.

Because she doesn’t seem to notice or care if the person she is with is an active listener, I have finally learned to turn a deaf ear, say “uh-huh” at the appropriate times and focus on her better qualities, as my husband and father-in- law have done for years. – NO LONGER LISTENING IN COLORADO

DEAR NO LONGER LISTENING: That letter brought some thought-provoking feedback. Not everyone agreed with me that the woman’s problem could be early dementia. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I have another thought. Perhaps the in-laws were trying to elicit an acknowledgment of what they were saying, so they kept saying it, thinking it wasn’t sinking in. I find myself doing the same thing when it appears my daughter isn’t listening or hasn’t reacted to something I have said – particularly if it’s something important to me. – ANNIE IN ORTONVILLE, MICH.

DEAR ABBY: I’m only in my 30s, and I sometimes have the habit of repeating myself. I do it when I feel the person I am speaking to is blowing me off, patronizing me, misunderstanding me or not acknowledging me.

“Pete and Repeat” should try the following before sending the older folks to a doctor or deciding they have dementia: When Mom and Pop repeat themselves, look them straight in the eye, and gently and sincerely acknowledge the message. Example: Say, “Mom, thank you for telling us about the surprise! You always plan such great gifts, we can’t wait to see what it is.” They should teach their children to do the same.

“Pete and Repeat” may think they are acknowledging their parents by telling them they already heard them eight times, but my guess is the parents are looking for a more positive form of affirmation. – LAURIE IN LARAMIE, WYO.

DEAR ABBY: My husband’s mother was a wonderful mother- in-law, but she also told the same stories over and over. Finally, I started charging my husband a dollar for every time I had to listen to a story I already knew. This way I was more than polite to his mother – I was enthusiastic when she repeated herself, and I silently counted up my winnings. Maybe “Pete and Repeat” could promise their kids a quarter for every time the grandparents repeat themselves. I promise you, everybody’s attitude will change for the better. – MISSING MY M-I-L IN NEW JERSEY

DEAR ABBY: Your advice to “Pete and Repeat” was right on. My mother-in-law started repeating herself more than 15 years ago, at the young age of 61. Her children wrote it off as “old age,” but her daughters-in-law saw it as an early sign of dementia. Unfortunately, we were right.

I hope “Pete and Repeat” won’t put off encouraging her parents to visit their doctor. Medications can slow the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. The sooner they know what’s going on, the better they all can prepare for the future. – LISA IN BLOOMFIELD HILLS, MICH.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.