Alzheimer’s and dementia bring a whole host of symptoms with them, but one of the most difficult to confront is paranoia, delusions, and hallucinations. It may be shocking when your mother accuses you of stealing her jewelry, claims that her caregiver is poisoning her, or that someone is hiding in the house, but your situation isn’t unique. According to Unforgettable.org, up to 40% of individuals with dementia will experience some form of paranoia. Let’s look at what causes paranoia and how you can address it to help your loved one feel safe and more secure.
What Causes Paranoia During Dementia?
There is still so much that researchers and doctors don’t know about Alzheimer’s and dementia, like why some individuals experience terrifying delusions and paranoia and others don’t. These symptoms tend to arise in the middle and late stages of the disease. By this time, the brain has undergone serious changes, and your loved one may have difficulty remembering and be experiencing confusion on a regular basis. Together, these two symptoms make it easier for delusions and paranoia to grow. For example, if you mother cannot remember where she put her shoes, or if she cannot find a pair of shoes she remembers having as a child, she may jump to the conclusion that someone stole them. She may also feel confused and abandoned in her home, feeding into the paranoia that someone is out to get her!
How to Confront Paranoid Behavior
It is important to remember that dementia and Alzheimer’s is a constant rollercoaster. Sometimes you just have to go with the highs and the lows.
- Recognize that this is a symptom of the disease. It’s easy to get angry at your mother when she accuses you of stealing after you’ve spent all day taking care of her. Instead of feeling angry, remember that this is the dementia affecting your mother and is not truly her. When you see this behavior as a symptom, it is much easier to feel sympathetic.
- Resist the temptation to dismiss your loved one’s outrageous claims. Simply telling Mom that she’s wrong isn’t going to make her feel any better. Keep in mind that to your mom, her accusations are real. She really does think the new health care worker is trying to poison her or that someone is following her on the street. Take the time to listen to your loved one. Just this small act can make her feel better.
- Rather than being dismissive, try to reassure your loved one. If Mom claims that someone stole her shoes, spend some time looking for them with her. If she thinks someone is following her, tell her that you’ll stay with her to keep her safe. You can even try and explain why certain hallucinations are not real, but don’t burden your loved one with an explanation that is too long or complex.
- Change the focus. Someone in the middle to late stages of Alzheimer’s or dementia usually cannot focus on a single topic for a long amount of time. This makes it relatively simple to help guide their focus to something else when they become upset. For example, you might suggest watching a television show or going for a walk and then looking for Mom’s stolen shoes afterwards. Often, Mom won’t remember about the shoes by the end of the walk.
- Talk to the doctor. If your loved one is experiencing serious hallucinations or is becoming aggressive or highly agitated to the point where they represent a threat to themselves or others (especially an elderly spouse), it may be time to bring them to the doctor. In more serious cases, a doctor may suggest anti-psychotic medications if non-drug approaches fail.
There’s no doubt that facing paranoia and delusions are a difficult experience for your loved one, but it can also take a toll on you! As a caretaker, you may face fear, anger, aggression, and accusations from someone you love and are trying to care for. Don’t suffer alone. It can be highly cathartic to share your stories and receive advice from others who are facing the same challenges. If you live in Poway or San Diego County, we invite you to attend our free, monthly caregiver and family support group, which is open to the public.
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Categories: Memory Care