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 those 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 and 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 often works better is to validate what they’re saying and then, redirect to another activity or distract with something pleasant.

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.

To give you ideas and starting points for your own creative answers, we share a variety of suggested responses below.

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.
  • 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 (some 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!
For many people with dementia, it’s no longer safe for them to leave the house on their own.

They can easily get lost or injured in an accident. But 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: Marigold Caregivers

 

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.


12 Comments

  • Reply July 14, 2021

    Jerry

    Hospice showed up three days before my dad’s passing. They really didn’t do anything for him. But what was nice was when he passed I didn’t have to call 911 and have the fire dept dispatched and have a police officer show up and ask a hundred questions and wait for the medical examiner to realease the remains The hospice nurse prononounces the death and they connect the funeral service.
    We went through that with my mom. Funnt thing is when my mom was sent home to die they said the hospice nurse would arrive the next day. Mom died that night. Because hospice dispatched oxygen I thought we were in the clear. We stayed with mom’s body and said our prayers. We went to bed (it was 2am) thinking we call the hospice nurse. The next morning i call hospice…they said “you haven’t signed the paperwork yet. Call 911” Jeez…Now we had to explain to the fire dept and cop why we waited seven hours before reporting her death. Luckily the cop was a nice man and he could relate having lost his mom just 6 months prior. But it was a long morning.

    • Reply July 14, 2021

      DailyCaring

      We’re sorry for your losses and sad to hear that happened with the hospice company after your mom had passed. That’s definitely a complication that you need during an already difficult time.

  • Reply November 14, 2020

    SCR

    I’m the POA for my grandma and she constantly thinks she is in the wrong place when she’s in her room. Sometimes she thinks she’s at my place and needs me to pick her up. Sometimes she thinks she’s totally lost. When I try to reassure her that she is in her room at the nursing home, she becomes angry. Within these conversations, she will even tell me that she needs to go to a nursing home. Prior to the pandemic, I could go over to calm her, but now she is getting worse and rarely recognizes the staff. I imagine masks and face shields don’t help, but she’s mostly blind. She cannot walk, but will try to get out of bed, which could lead to falls. She becomes angry and screams at the staff or my husband. I try to explain to her about the pandemic or use the pandemic as the reason why I can’t come pick her up or buy her a bus pass. Should I tell the staff to get her dressed and act like they are taking her somewhere? That’s A LOT of effort – she needs a hoyer lift. I’m grateful for any input.

  • Reply October 28, 2020

    LB

    Excellent article. I really benefited from it. I’d like to see a date since things are changing so fast.

    • Reply October 28, 2020

      DailyCaring

      Thanks for the feedback! So glad you found this article helpful.

  • Reply June 6, 2020

    Mary Artis

    Today was the first day I felt attacked by my Mom’s accusations. I raised my voice which I have never done even before the onset of her Dementia. My Dad is dying from chronic health conditions and a blood infection from bed sores. They have very poor finances which has placed me in a difficult situation to provide for his care. So when Mom accused me of not consulting her and placing Dad on hospice after stating she did not like hospice, all the emotions of these situations came up. I felt so bad after raising my voice and hearing her say, you are yelling at me, I literally cried. I am crying now as I write this. I am losing my best friends.

    • Reply June 15, 2020

      DailyCaring

      So sorry that this is happening 😥 It’s a stressful situation to be in so it’s understandable that you’d lose your patience. You’ve done an amazing job of caring for both your parents, but we’re all only human and nerves are bound to get stretched too thin from time to time.

      In case it’s helpful, we have some additional tips on responding to accusations — 8 Ways to Deal with False Dementia Accusations https://dailycaring.com/8-ways-to-deal-with-false-dementia-accusations/

      It may also be helpful to join a virtual caregiver support group. It’s helpful to hear from others in similar situations as well as to share your own experiences if you feel comfortable doing so. More info here — 11 Private Support Groups for Caregivers on Facebook https://dailycaring.com/support-groups-for-caregivers-on-facebook/

      • Reply December 16, 2020

        Patty

        My long time partner is always accusing me of taking his keys, wallet, money I make more I have more and do not need his money but he’s constantly accusing me today I yelled at him “I do NOT HAVE YOUR PHONE WALLET OR MONEY! “But instead of hearing money he heard mommy and said he should punch me for bringing up his mother I never in my life refered to his mother as mommy I said “money” is this onset of dementia? His mom always accused him of taking her money they use to get into violent arguments about money till her dying day she kept accusing him of taking her money.

    • Reply October 28, 2020

      LB

      Don’t do hospice if you can help it.. I’m so sorry to take their side when you’re doing everything but it killed my dad literally for my mom to bring them into his sanctuary behind his back when he couldn’t fight back. Someone walked in and he died. This is not the time to pinch pennies, this is certainly as important as birth which we celebrate every year. I didn’t think much about these things and then my mom got dementia and of her three children I was the only one to help, for free I might add so your comments about money struck home /u can’t do everything. I lived with her and did everything. At first she accused me of freeloading lol! but that went away soon. When it became too much I went and slept wherever she did. I’m so glad I did it. We had issues like so many and this solved them. This is how it should be.

      • Reply October 28, 2020

        DailyCaring

        We’re so sorry to hear that your family had such a poor experience with hospice.

        Every family situation is different, so while hospice might be a wonderful option for some, it may not work for others.

        In case it’s helpful, we’ve got an article with key questions to ask when considering hospice to see if it would be a good fit for the situation – Choosing a Hospice Provider: Important Questions to Ask https://dailycaring.com/choosing-a-hospice-provider-important-questions-to-ask/

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