Different Types of False Accusations in Dementia
False accusations can present in various forms in different types of dementia. People who have Alzheimer’s disease are more likely to make false claims of persecution earlier in their disease, and false claims that misidentify people later in their disease. False claims by people who have Parkinsonian dementia tend to have a visual component.
Common dementia accusations in people living with dementia can include the belief that someone is stealing their money, stealing or hiding items like eyeglasses, poisoning one’s food, or keeping one prisoner.
Logic usually isn’t helpful in discussions of finance with people who have dementia. One’s demeanor can make all the difference; try engaging with the person and guide them to a different activity if at all possible. Try to maintain calm and reassure your loved one that you still care about them and their feelings.
Unfamiliar foods or foods prepared outside of a usual way can sometimes give the person living with dementia the false delusion of being “poisoned.” Try to support the person to participate in and observe food preparation and “help” in the kitchen. Join the person in sharing the meal to help provide reassurance that it is safe.
When someone who has dementia can’t remember where something is, they may conclude that it has been “stolen.” Helpful responses can include offering to look for the missing item together; apologizing and offering to look for it one more time or offering that perhaps you mistakenly moved the item on accident. Having duplicate items, such as eyeglasses or pens or wallets can help to ease a stressful situation
“You’re keeping me prisoner!”
A formerly independent adult who now is restricted to the home may feel like he or she is in prison. Sometimes it is enough simply to talk about going to favorite places or reminisce through photo albums or travel brochures. Short “field trips” away from the home or nursing facility can provide just the right change of pace. However, a good rule of thumb is to have a back up plan to return home quickly, if needed.
Helpful reminders when dealing with false accusations from someone living with dementia include:
- Remembering that one cannot win an argument with someone who has dementia; you will only make them more upset and increase your own stress.
- Keep answers to questions short and simple.
- Keep calm and try to stay positive, using affirming body language.
- Strive to keep the home environment as calm as possible: turn down or turn off the TV; limit exposure to persons who upset others.
- Validate, then distract.
- Respect feelings and try to move to another activity as quickly as possible.
- And lastly, try not to take the accusations personally!
Mary Bates, MS, CT, is a Certified Dementia Practitioner