Responding to 4 Common Dementia Accusations: Stealing, Poisoning, Being Held Prisoner

dementia accusations

What to say when you’re being falsely accused

People with Alzheimer’s or dementia commonly accuse people close to them of theft, mistreatment, or other terrible things.

Cases of true abuse do exist, but more often, these accusations are completely false and are caused by dementia paranoia or delusions.

It’s important to keep reminding yourself that your older adult isn’t saying these things on purpose to hurt you. The damage in their brain has caused them to strongly believe things that we know aren’t real.

We explain why responding to false accusations with logic and reasoning won’t work. We also share suggested responses for 4 common dementia accusations: stealing money and things, poisoning, and being held prisoner.




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Avoid reasoning and logical explanations

For each of these common accusations, don’t use reason to explain why it’s not true or try to show proof that they’re wrong.

What works better is to validate and redirect or distract. Focus on validating the emotion behind their words. Let them know that you understand how they feel and that you want to help resolve the situation. Then, solve the problem if possible, redirect them to another activity, or distract them with something they’re interested in.

We share a variety of suggested responses as a starting point for your own creative answers. Each situation and each person with dementia is different, so you’re the best judge of which responses are more likely to work.

It may take a little experimentation to get the hang of the validation and redirection technique, but it gets easier with practice.

 

Suggested responses to 4 common dementia accusations

1. You stole my money!
Having dementia means giving up control over their own finances. That loss of control, combined with paranoia or delusions, can cause them to think people are stealing their money.

Suggested responses:

  • Oh no, is your money missing? I can see why you’re upset. Don’t worry, I’m going to help you look for it. Let’s start by checking this drawer…
  • Oh no, is there money missing? That can be very upsetting. Let’s check your bank statements to make sure it’s all there.
  • Oh no, it sounds like we need to look into this. Let’s go to the bank tomorrow when it’s open to get it straightened out. Since the bank is closed right now, let’s do (an activity they enjoy).

How to help them feel more in control:

  • Give them a checkbook (fake/old) to help them “track” their money
  • Let them keep a wallet with a small amount of real money (lots of dollar bills) or realistic-looking fake money
  • Keep files of very old bank statements for them to review when they feel anxious
  • Let them write checks to pay bills (all fake/old) and secretly shred them later

 

2. You stole my purse / wallet / glasses / hearing aid / dentures …!
Someone with dementia may accuse you of stealing an item when they can’t find it themselves. It’s easier to cope with the changes in their brain by saying that someone stole the item rather than admit they can’t find it.

Suggested responses:

  • Is (item) missing? I can see why that would upset you. Let’s look over here, I thought I saw it earlier.
  • Oh no, I must have put that in the wrong place when I was cleaning earlier. Let me get it for you.
  • Oh no, your (item) is missing? I’m so sorry that that happened. Could I look around one more time? It may have just been put somewhere to keep it safe.

How to help them feel more in control:

  • Try to find their favorite hiding places for storing items that are frequently “lost” so you can easily find the items.
  • Buy copies of frequently “lost” items (if they’re not too expensive) so you can always “find” it quickly without having to spend time looking for it.



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3. You’re poisoning me! I’m not going to eat.
Paranoia or delusions can cause someone with dementia to believe that you’re putting poison in their food or drinks.

Suggested responses:

  • I understand that you’re feeling afraid, but I want you to know that I would never let anything bad happen to you. Have you tried this chicken? It’s delicious. Let’s have some together and you can tell me more about (a topic or hobby they enjoy).
  • While using this or a similar calm response, eat the same meal together or take a bite from their plate to show that it’s safe.

How to help them feel more in control:

  • Ask them to join you in the kitchen and “help” prepare the meal so they can see everything you’re doing.
  • If there are cooking tasks they’re able to help with, let them participate in the cooking.

 

4. You’re keeping me prisoner!
Many people with dementia are no longer safe leaving the house on their own. They can easily get lost or injured in an accident. Because they can’t go wherever they want anymore, they may feel like they’re being kept prisoner.

Suggested responses:

  • It sounds like you want to go out, where should we go?…Oh really, I love that place too? What do you like best about going there?
  • We can go anywhere you like, what did you have in mind?…That’s a great idea! Let’s go after we have lunch. I made your favorite pasta dish, let’s go to the kitchen to eat.

How to help them feel more in control:

  • When possible, agree and accompany them when they want to go somewhere.
  • If it’s not possible to go out, agree and pretend to help them get ready to go. While pretending to get ready to go out, subtly redirect them to an activity they enjoy.

 

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By DailyCaring Editorial Team
Image: Coordinare

 

This article wasn’t sponsored, but does contain some affiliate links. We never link to products or services for the sole purpose of making a commission. Recommendations are based on our honest opinions. For more information, see How We Make Money.


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