8 Ways to Deal with False Dementia Accusations

dementia accusations

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.




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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.




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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.

 

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By DailyCaring Editorial Team
Image: The Memories Project


14 Comments

  • Reply May 31, 2018

    Patricia

    My grandma is 83 and has dementia, not sure how far it is, and yesterday she hit my mom. She was also very combative to her and the doctor who was treating my grandpa (87) after he fell. Today my mom went over to see if the bedding was changed, it wasn’t, and helped change the sheets and put them in the washer and left after my grandma tried to hit her again. She noticed that my grandpa had cuts and bruises around his head. My grandma said he fell, but it didn’t look like it. She is very abusive to him and her own kids. She is starting to not remember us grandkids, doesn’t think she has any great grand kids, and always hides the cell phones. She is trying to press charges against my mom for hitting her (domestic elderly abuse) which is totally false. My mom knows she can win against her since she has proof that my grandma was abusive to her.

  • Reply May 8, 2018

    Anonymous

    Keep in mind I’m 16… A few months ago my grandfather who I’ve lived with almost my entire life. Is accusing me and my dad of constantly bumming off of him and won’t leave. The reason behind this is my grandmother which passed away 1 and a half years ago had the same problem but in a different manner. Basically he would accuse her of stealing or ”*******” different guys that I knew personally and where her brothers and sisters. Back to the recent issue, I myself have stayed here all my life as because my mom and dad had a bit of a drinking problem when I was younger and that caused them to loose me and my sister to my grandparents who where open arms for both of us. But my dad is completely clean now and he stayed a month with me just to kinda bond as mostly he is working. But after he was accused of ”******* around” in the house and was rudely asked to leave, but I stayed as my school is closer and I feel more at home since I lived here all my life. But present day, he is constantly saying i’m ”******* her” and my breath stinks of ***** is very disheartening and I feel as if nobody really understand what I go through daily. I really wish he could get better but I knows it’s only going to get worse and I may have to move out sooner or later. But yeah here is my story and hopefully some of you can relate as it’s very difficult to deal with daily.

    • Reply May 8, 2018

      DailyCaring

      I’m so sorry this is happening. It’s definitely a tough situation to deal with, especially at your young age. Hopefully the suggestions in this article can help you manage or cope with his false accusations.

      It sounds like your grandfather might have some cognitive issues. They could be caused by dementia or they could be the result of a treatable health condition. This escalation of behavior lately could be the result of a urinary tract infection or other health condition. The best thing would be to get him to see his doctor to find out if he could have dementia or a condition that’s causing this dementia-like behavior. I recommend privately letting the doctor know of your concerns ahead of the appointment or else you grandfather is likely to say he’s fine and bluff his way through.

      You may also want to contact the Alzheimer’s Association 24/7 Helpline at 1-800-272-3900 to see if they can help you find some solutions to reduce the behavior and improve the situation. They’re experts with plenty of experience who can give you tips on how to manage it and what to do next.

      To help you cope, you may find a dementia care support group helpful. You can talk with others in similar situations and get a better understanding of what’s happening. Here are some private online groups that we recommend — http://dailycaring.com/11-caregiver-support-groups-on-facebook-youll-want-to-join/

  • Reply April 10, 2018

    theresa

    my 99 year old grandmother has been living with my parents for over 40 years since my grandfather passed. she never drove so they always had to take her to visit her family or friends and to her doctors appointments. to talk to her you would never know she was 99 yrs old, but recently (past 6 months or so) she started accusing my father of doing horrific things like setting her up. she accidentally left poop on a bathroom towel and for safety reasons he told my mom so she could clean it. my grandmother is holding a grudge and said he did and set her up. she also blames him for stealing money (which i know he didn’t i am her personal finance manager) what happened is the bank stopped offering bank books and made her close that account and put it into a statement savings account. she is insisting he took the money and spent it on his girlfriend. yes, is accusing him of having a girlfriend too. this is my moms mom and my poor father who insisted 40 + years ago they take her in is now the target. any reason why?

  • Reply March 7, 2018

    Kimmy

    I am the only child taking care of my mother since my fathers passing 4 years ago. My mother has been able to stay on her own and take care of her basic needs, but she has started accusing me of stealing from her, grandmother and children. It really hurts that she really believes this, but even more that she has told friends and family and they believe it also. I have gone as far as to take a lie detector test to clear my name. We have not told her yet because we are not sure how she will react and if she will even believe the test. I don’t even know how I feel about telling other family members because I feel betrayed.

    • Reply March 8, 2018

      DailyCaring

      I’m so sorry this is happening. Making false accusations (especially of people closest to them) and being paranoid are common dementia symtoms.

      Unfortunately, there won’t be much you can do to convince her that she’s wrong. Her beliefs are very real in her mind and are caused by the damage in her brain. She isn’t likely to be able to understand and respond to logic on a consistent basis — even something like passing a lie detector test. Her paranoid and damaged brain could even somehow turn that into another piece of evidence against you. Trying to argue with someone who has dementia and using logic to support your position is usually a losing battle. More info on why correcting doesn’t work — http://dailycaring.com/q-a-should-you-correct-someone-with-alzheimers/

      What may help you is to keep reminding yourself that this is the dementia talking, not really your mother. She would never accuse you of these things if she had full cognitive function. But since the dementia is slowly damaging her brain, this is what’s happening as a result. It’s very difficult not to take these accusations personally, but if you can start moving toward accepting that it’s the dementia and not her, it will definitely take a little of the sting out of the words and help you deal with the accusations more calmly. And if she starts in on accusations, the best thing may be to leave the room for a little while to try to reset the situation (assuming it’s safe to leave her alone at that time).

      It’s wise that you’ve made it clear to close family and friends what is happening so there is clear proof in case the authorities ever become involved (hopefully not). It’s completely up to you if you want to share what’s happening with others. But if someone is coming for a visit, it may be helpful to give them a heads up so they aren’t shocked to hear it.

      I hope some of the suggestions in this article are helpful. If you can calm the environment and help her feel more secure and in control, that may reduce some of these symptoms of paranoia. You may also want to try putting her on a consistent daily routine. That has helped many feel more secure because every day is reliable and predictable and the body gets into a comfortable pattern. More info — http://dailycaring.com/why-routine-is-important-for-seniors/

      Hang in there, this will hopefully be a passing phase. Sending hugs and positive thoughts ❤️

  • Reply December 21, 2017

    Kristen

    My elderly mother with dementia suffers from a delusion that she was raped, and that I, her live in caregiver not only let the attacker in the house, but won’t do anything to protect her.

    This kind of false accusation is worse than a delusion of theft.I can not be silent or hold her hand and gently reassure her over this.

    • Reply December 22, 2017

      DailyCaring

      That is certainly a serious issue. In some cases, these type of accusations could be based in a type of confusion of reality. For example, if you had an aide that came to help her with bathing or grooming, she could have gotten that mixed up in her mind as an assault and where you allowed that person in. Or it could also be pure fantasy. Maybe if you let her talk through what she thinks happened, you could get a clue to what causes those thoughts. Or, letting her tell her story could help relieve her anxiety about it. If she continues to have this delusion and there’s absolutely nothing that could be causing these thoughts and it’s causing significant distress and significantly impacting her quality of life, you may consider asking a geropsychiatrist or a doctor who specializes in dementia treatment to help find a solution that will ease her mind.

  • Reply December 13, 2017

    Timmy

    Thank you for posting this article. It definitely has helped us realize some of what’s going on in our situation. My mom is being cared for by a saint of a man, a few hours away, in an independent living retirement community. Unfortunately, her condition is causing our relationship to deteriorate because her warped memory makes me the bad guy on a variety of fronts, often for mis-remembered things that happened months prior that suddenly become an issue for her. It’s sad because our family was so close growing up. And my kids want to spend more time with their grandmother. But her ire keeps her from wanting to spend any time with us.

    She needs help, and I want to get her to a neurologist so that she can be on medication that may help her not feel so bitter and mad. Subtle suggestions (from me or her caretaker) are met with firm responses denying she needs helps. At times, I just want to tell her “Your brain is tricking you. You need to see a doctor. I don’t care which one, but let a neurologist evaluate you. If they say you’re fine, I’ll deeply apologize for anything you remember me doing that upset you.” But if that doesn’t work, she might not ever speak to me again.

    • Reply December 16, 2017

      DailyCaring

      I’m so sorry you’re in this challenging situation. It’s great that she has such good care, that’s so important. It’s possible that she has dementia or a health condition that could be causing dementia-like symptoms. Unfortunately, since she’s having dementia-like symptoms, it will be very difficult to reason with her because dementia typically damages that ability. If this behavior is a recent change, it’s possible that she has an infection like a urinary tract infection (UTI), which can cause this type of behavior — http://dailycaring.com/alzheimers-or-urinary-tract-infection/

      You may have to go through some trial and error to get her to see the doctor. It sounds like you may need to trick her into it since reason won’t work. You could pretend that it’s time for her annual check up and not mention anything about why she needs to go or that anything is wrong. Some people may respond if you say that the annual visit is a free benefit and it would be a shame to miss out on the free visit. Depending on how advanced her symptoms are, some people have had success by taking their older adult to lunch (or somewhre they enjoy) and then “stopping by” the doctor’s office after — but not mentioning the doctor’s appointment until arriving there. For those who have found this successful, the older adult just goes along with what’s happening since it’s already in motion. Those are just a couple of ideas, hopefully that will help you come up with something that could work for your mom.

      Before your mom goes to the doctor, be sure to speak with them privately so you can let them know your concerns. If you’re not going into the appointment with her, she may lie about her symptoms to the doctor and depending on how advanced the symptoms are, the doctor could believe her. Let the doctor know about the symptoms you’ve been observing, when they began, how they’re different from her typical behavior, etc. That will help them in their examination.

      She may be blaming you for things because she’s noticing changes in her brain and blaming you is easier and less scary than admitting that something is wrong. Of course, it’s difficult and hurtful for you to hear. We’ve got an article with some tips on handling mean behavior — http://dailycaring.com/7-ways-to-respond-to-mean-dementia-behavior/

      And here’s some info on treatable conditions that cause dementia-like symptoms:
      http://dailycaring.com/8-treatable-diseases-that-mimic-dementia/
      http://dailycaring.com/7-treatable-health-conditions-with-symptoms-similar-to-dementia/

  • Reply November 16, 2017

    Christine

    Exactly what kind of simple answer do you propose I respond with when my mom accuses me of stealing the money she can’t find because she already spent it or misplaced it? Or worse, when she accuses someone else and she insists that I take her to the police to report it, and this accusation and demand to speak with the police goes on for weeks? It seems the only thing she wants to hear that will calm her down is if I agree to take her to file a report, but I refuse to waste the time and resources of the police on something she has fabricated. However, any other response only agitates her more, and despite several distractions, she will not let it go. How exactly do I deal with such behavior? Because I am at my wit’s end.

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