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


26 Comments

  • Reply June 30, 2019

    Need ADVICE

    HELP!!! What age does Dementia usually start? My mom is 67 yrs old and since my dad passed away 10 years ago had to take over the care of both my brothers who both have primary progressive Multiple Sclerosis. My husband and I move our family of 8 to live with them as she was overwhelmed with trying to care for them in her own. But these last couple of years she has begun to worry me with strange and upsetting behavior . She will frequently misplace things and always accuse me of taking them most of the time but not directly but she makes comments hinting towards me being the one who did it. There’s been several times she’s misplaced money or her and my two disabled brothers medications and she always start crying saying she’s not safe and that someone is doing these things to her on purpose she even goes as far as praying and asking why people want to hurt her if all she want to do is take care of her family . It also never fails that if we do end up finding misplaced items weather it be money or medication she always always sais there was more in quantity than what we end up finding and either way someone end up accused of it. It’s like either way there’s no making her happy. She can’t admit to even making the tiniest of mistakes things that anyone could forget easily that are no big deal It most definitely wasn’t her mistake and she will come up with the craziest reasons why it couldn’t of been her. ( it amazes me how she’s so worried or seems like she can’t have anyone know she made a mistake) she takes certain medications that have side affects of making her really sleepy aside from the fact that her and I are up all through the night watching over my brothers because they might need to be suctioned through their tracheotomy in their throats. So yes we are both tired and sleep dreprived but the difference is that I don’t accuse her of the horrible things she without a second thought has accused me of. If she finds herself exhausted one day more than usual she thinks she’s been given something to make her sleepy . She’s made inderect accusations of someone possibly putting something in her food that then made her sleepy. To the point where she had lab work done to confirm. ( of coarse it was clear ) . I don’t know what to do anymore I don’t want to abandon her or my disabled brothers but it hurts to be the go to punching bag every time something isn’t right or she thinks something isn’t right . I’m always defending her or making excuses for her every time she acting strange because she falling asleep doing different things walking around rambling things that don’t make sense but will not lay down and get some rest no matter how many times I try to get her to do it. Some days are worse than others but it only seems to have gotten worse since first moving in to present day. I’m not sure how long I can handle this even though I know That for my family’s sake I’m willing to take being the punching bag if I have to. But I’m scared there’s gonna be a time when I’m not sure what I’m gonna do if it gets worse cuz she’s the one that is the main person or guardian for my disabled brothers I’m scared to think that I might have to explain to her that I might need to take over . I feel like she’s gonna think I wanna hurt her on purpose. I love my mom to the moon and back but I’m hurt the way she can so easily have thoughts of accusing me of such crazy and horrible things. I seek like I’m stuck in a never ending circle. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    • Reply August 3, 2019

      DailyCaring

      So sorry to hear about this tough situation 🙁

      It may be helpful to let your mom’s doctor know about these behavior changes and ask that they do a thorough exam. It’s possible that she has a treatable health condition that’s causing dementia-like symptoms. Or, she could have Alzheimer’s or dementia. It may also help to evaluate her medications, vitamins, and supplements to make sure that there aren’t any negative interactions that are causing problems.

      These articles may be helpful:
      — 8 Treatable Diseases That Mimic Dementia https://dailycaring.com/8-treatable-diseases-that-mimic-dementia/
      — 7 Treatable Health Conditions with Symptoms Similar to Dementia https://dailycaring.com/7-treatable-health-conditions-with-symptoms-similar-to-dementia/

      The behaviors you’ve described are common in dementia. We’ve got some articles that can help you understand why they’re happening and how to respond:
      — Responding to 4 Common Dementia Accusations: Stealing, Poisoning, Being Held Prisoner https://dailycaring.com/responding-to-4-common-dementia-accusations-stealing-poisoning-being-held-prisoner/
      — 6 Ways to Help Someone Who Doesn’t Know They’re Ill: Anosognosia in Dementia https://dailycaring.com/6-ways-to-help-someone-who-doesnt-know-theyre-ill-anosognosia-in-dementia/

    • Reply September 16, 2019

      Just me

      my dad is 73 he was always a narcisstic jerk and we never got along at all , but in the six months he is acting like the mayor of crazytown.

      He walks around nude has arguing conversations in public with himself
      He almost got his butt kicked at a buffet because he mowed down a really old lady
      He almost stepped on my two year niece’s head because he didn’t see her there He also tried to push her out of the way and wonders why they don’t want him babysitting anymore.
      Think everyone is stealing off him and gets irate The items are usually sitting next to him or in dumb places like the freezer or a book on his bookshelf.

      Thinks the tv is on when it is off . Starts fights me over my humidifier and fan being on but is so deaf it is hard to talk to him.He wakes my mom up who is 65 and still works and she gets mad at me for waking her up even if he is standing there arguing with himself.

      She said if the cops come she is going to take my dad’s side because it is my job to calm him down.I told her , I am not staying here anymore find a nurse. I am sick hearing her homophobic rants about how gays are an abomination to jesus. I am gay and she has no idea.

  • Reply May 2, 2019

    Mitchell Eidson

    My father is 93and living alone at a distance from family. He has complained of bugs biting him and is convinced that bugs are inside him and causing pain. Nothing is ever seen. Doctors have run tests and found nothing.
    What’s the next move for us and what are we in store for in the near future? Thanks
    Mitch

  • Reply January 10, 2019

    SONJA

    I need some guidance please. My mom believes that my 11 year old daughter is her child. My mom lives with us in her own cottage on our premises. She gets very upset and angry if my child does not want to go with her. During the festive season she even grabbed my child by the arm to force her to go with her. This has really upset my daughter. She is not a baby anymore I know, and she knows that granny is ill but it upsets her as a child. How do I handle this situation?

    • Reply January 13, 2019

      DailyCaring

      I’m sorry this is happening, it’s definitely a tough situation for both your daughter and you.

      This behavior could be caused by a variety of reasons. Figuring out the root cause is helpful for reducing or managing it. You’ll need to play detective to find the triggers because your mom’s dementia is beyond the point where she can express her feelings and needs. The holidays are often filled with bustle and change of routine, which can increase the likelihood that someone with dementia will feel agitated and act out.

      For example, if your mom tends to do this when she’s feeling insecure or afraid, you can help make her feel safe and secure which hopefully reduces the behavior. Or, your mom may be feeling the need to care for someone and giving her a doll or stuffed animal can fill that need. Or, she could be in need of help with a physical need like going to the bathroom. Observe her behavior and try to make changes to reduce triggers that may be causing it. We’ve got suggestions in the articles listed below.

      It may also help to speak with your daughter and explain more about the causes behind dementia behaviors. Encourage her to express her concerns and questions to you so you can help talk them through and explain why specific things might be happening. This doesn’t solve the situation, but keeping communications open and being supportive will help your daughter cope.

      Here are some articles with helpful suggestions for reducing and managing this behavior:
      — The Positive Effect of Therapy Dolls for Dementia https://dailycaring.com/the-positive-effect-of-therapy-dolls-for-dementia/
      — Reduce Dementia Agitation with a Calm Environment: 5 Helpful Tips https://dailycaring.com/reduce-dementia-agitation-with-a-calm-environment-5-helpful-tips/
      — 10 Affordable Products for People with Dementia That Increase Comfort and Calm https://dailycaring.com/10-affordable-products-for-people-with-dementia-that-increase-comfort-and-calm/
      — 14 Ways of Dealing with Aggressive Behavior in Dementia https://dailycaring.com/14-ways-of-dealing-with-aggressive-behavior-in-dementia/
      — Dealing with Difficult Alzheimer’s and Dementia Symptoms https://dailycaring.com/dealing-with-difficult-alzheimers-dementia-symptoms/

      • Reply February 13, 2019

        Joey lofty

        I need help my grandfather has this he acuuse me and my family of stealing his meds and threatins us of calling law and child services on us and sayd were on drugs and he keeps asking me and my childrin to if an do we no were to get him some xnaxs and pain pills and cause his wife bad words and says she cheating on him and that he see people that arnt there so now mi and my family have been seen by social workers amd police please its mentaly breakimg me and my family down

        • Reply February 15, 2019

          DailyCaring

          I’m so sorry this is happening. Hopefully some of the suggestions in this article above will help reduce your grandfather’s accusations. And hopefully the authorities can see that dementia is causing his behavior and that his accusations are false. You may want to contact a lawyer to find out how to handle the situation if legal action is needed.

          In case it’s helpful, we’ve got information about how to find low cost legal services — 7 Sources of Free Legal Services for Seniors https://dailycaring.com/7-sources-of-free-legal-services-for-seniors/

    • Reply July 4, 2019

      ann

      I agree with you.
      I get it, i understand that alzhemeir’s is a disease. I am only 17 years old and I wanna live my life. But my mom’s mother thinks that I am her kid and tries to take control over me. If i don’t do what she tells me to do she gets mad at me for the stupidest s***. I don’t like the way she treats me yet my mom thinks that it is fine. She tries to force me to like her in which I am starting to hate her so much because she is causing so much problems. She is ruing my family. Sometimes I feel like she is faking this s*** because somehow she remembers something from 70 years ago but can’t remember something in 5 minutes. My neighbor had a crush on me and my grandma knew about it and told the guy to back off. and that just recently happened and she still remembers!!! she walks in the middle of the road and i tell her to walk by the grass and she pirposly walks in the middle. My parents tell her to walk by the grass and so she does. My mom doesn’t stand by me and my brother anymore instead she is protecting her mother which is understandable. my neighbor had a heart attack and she just came back and I asked her if she needs me to help her with her garden or anything I will be willingly to do so. I went over to her her and this is the s*** i get from my grandma when i come back. She f****** accuses me of abusing her, said that she is scared of me and calls me an animal and told me to go back to India. I HAVE NEVER IN MY F****** LIFE ABUSED HER!!! I have big dreams when I grow up! I want to be a vet, i want to be a surgical doctor, i want to work in the medical field. I told my mom that I never layed a finger on her mom. 1.she says oh its just the disease she has. AND then my mom just agrees with her mom that I do abuse her??? WTF!!!! Not only that but i feel like I am losing my mom because she is not their for me and my brother anymore. I feel like she is turning my mom against me and my brother. She asked my mom how she stands with my rude behavior and that i am a nasty person with no manners. Meanwhile its literally her who has no manners at all and shows no respect! see this is how it works out, if you want respect you have to show others respect! treat others how you would want to be treated!
      Someone please explaing this to me??? I can’t stand it anymore!!!!

  • 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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