Seniors with dementia falsely accuse family of terrible things
“You stole my wallet and all my money!”
“You’re keeping me prisoner in my house!”
“You’re trying to poison me!”
Seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia commonly accuse the people closest to them of theft, mistreatment, or other terrible things. While cases of true abuse do exist, oftentimes these accusations are completely untrue and are caused by delusions – strong beliefs in things that aren’t real.
It’s important to remember that your older adult isn’t creating these delusions to hurt you. Their brains are failing and the delusions and paranoia are symptoms of the disease.
We explain why this happens and share 8 ways to calm the situation and kindly deal with these dementia accusations.
Why seniors with dementia make false dementia accusations
Their accusations may sound crazy, but the situation is very real to your older adult. Their minds are trying to make sense of the world while their cognitive abilities are declining.
People with dementia often feel anxiety, frustration, and a sense of loss. Those feelings, plus memory loss and confusion, can easily lead to paranoia. That’s why many seniors with dementia feel like people are stealing from them or mistreating them.
When they can’t find something they’ve misplaced, their brain leads them to believe that someone stole from them. When you prevent them from wandering and getting lost, they think they’re being kept prisoner.
These dementia accusations can be extremely hurtful to hear, but it’s important to remember that they’re not personal attacks against you. Their brain can’t make sense of what’s happening and has created an alternate version of reality to compensate.
8 ways to deal with false dementia accusations
1. Don’t take it personally
Remember that your older adult is only making these accusations because of their declining cognitive abilities. They’re trying to make sense of their reality as best they can.
Do your best to stay calm and not to take these accusations personally. Focus on reassuring them and showing that you care about how they’re feeling.
2. Don’t argue or use logic to convince
It’s important not to argue or use logic to convince someone with dementia that they’re wrong. You simply can’t win an argument with someone whose brain no longer processes logic properly. And arguing will only make them upset and more insistent.
Instead, let them express their ideas, feelings, and opinions. It will be easier to calm and distract them if they feel heard and validated.
3. Use a calm, soothing tone and positive body language
When responding to someone who is worked up over something they strongly believe, it’s essential to stay calm.
Bring the adrenaline level of the situation down by speaking in a gentle, calm tone of voice. You may also want to try reassuring them in non-verbal ways like a gentle touch or hug.
4. Create a calm environment
Creating a calm environment is another way to reduce the tension in the situation.
Reduce noise and commotion by turning off the TV, asking other people to leave the room, or playing slow songs or classical music at a low volume. Aromatherapy is another way to create a soothing environment.
5. Stick to simple answers
When you respond to their accusations, keep your responses short and simple. Long explanations or reasoning may be overwhelming and cause more agitation and confusion.
6. Distract with a pleasant activity
The best way to stop them from obsessing about their accusation is to validate, then distract. Switch to a fun, engaging, or satisfying activity as soon as possible after sympathizing with how they feel.
Maybe it’s a good time to offer a favorite snack or drink. Or you could ask for help with a no-fail task they enjoy, like folding “laundry” (aka lots of hand towels).
7. Keep duplicates of frequently misplaced items
If you notice a pattern where your older adult frequently hides and then loses a certain item, consider buying multiples of that item.
For example, if they’re constantly misplacing their wallet, buy another of the same style so you can offer to help them “find” it.
8. Seek support and advice from people who understand
Being accused of stealing, abuse, or other terrible things can be devastating. Even if you can hide your true feelings to avoid further upsetting your older adult, it still hurts inside.
To help you cope, join a caregiver support group – either in person or online. You’ll be surprised and relieved to learn that many other people have been accused of similar untrue things. It truly helps to know you’re not the only one it’s happening to.