Alzheimer's Q&A

My mom constantly accuses me of taking her personal things or taking her money. No matter how hard I try to convince her otherwise, she is adamant about these delusions. Is this common with Alzheimer’s disease?

Paranoid delusional behaviors are very common in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

The usual target of these delusions is the caregiver who spends the most time with the person. It is very upsetting and unnerving for you, the caregiver, to be the target of accusations.

Additionally, the affected person may “share” these fears with other family members and friends, causing them to doubt your care, and trigger embarrassment and distress.

Keep in mind the person with Alzheimer’s has lost any sense of reasoning or logic; no amount of convincing your mom that her accusations are false will resolve the situation. As the disease progresses and the brain deteriorates, the person with Alzheimer’s becomes more confused and what he hears or sees can be misconstrued. Coupled with sensory impairments, paranoid delusions can escalate.

Reassurance is key to calming or reducing paranoid behavior, though it will probably not stop it. Since these delusions are very real to the person with Alzheimer’s, it is important to validate those feelings.

Get into your mom’s reality. For instance, if your mom accuses you of stealing her money, it might simply be easier to apologize, to tell her that you were just borrowing it and you forgot to tell her and that you will return it as soon as possible.

You are not only validating her feelings, but you are also settling her fears and offering her some reassurance that her money is not really missing which calms her and gives her some peace.

Try to understand the nature of her distress. Was she a suspicious and distrustful person prior to the onset of the disease? If so, her paranoia may become more aggravated.

Look at the times of day the delusions are occurring. Are they occurring later in the day, around the time of “sundowning” (when most behavior expressions escalate)?

Do they occur after an episodic event such as after a daily bath, when she is removed from her familiar environment, or when she has had a particularly tiring day?

Environment can play a big factor in calming delusions. Keep your mom’s environment and routines structured and familiar.

Place clothing, money, and other personal items back into the same place after they have been used. As your mom gets more suspicious, she may hide these items, thinking they are at risk of being stolen, and then she is unable to relocate them, thus compounding the problem and feeding the delusions further.

Additionally, when she is in her accusatory moods, try to distract and redirect her with things she enjoys. Take a walk, Look at old photos. Dance. Keep her interested in an activity that promotes her self-esteem and empowerment.

Depending on the severity of the delusional behavior, you may want to seek the advice of a physician. Look at your mom’s medications and discuss these with your doctor. Some medications for people with Alzheimer’s have serious side effects, so keep that in mind in her management of care.

How you cope and adapt to her fears can either make the situation better or worse.

As Alzheimer’s disease affects every individual uniquely, keep notes on what works and what doesn’t work with your mom.

Alzheimer’s Services can provide you with resources to assist you along the way as well as listings for support groups in your area that can offer you help and support for your mom’s care.

Questions about Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia disorder? Contact Dana Territo, the Memory Whisperer, director of services at Alzheimer’s Services of the Capital Area, (225) 334-7494, advice@alzbr.org, or visit the organization at 3772 North Blvd., Baton Rouge.