One of the most difficult dementia behaviors for caregivers to cope with is false accusations. We’ve all had the experience of losing track of something, thinking someone must have taken it, and then later finding the object and discovering we were mistaken. Dementia patients, with their short-term memory problems and tendency towards paranoia, are all the more prone to these kind of misunderstandings. Because so much of their world no longer makes sense, they have a need to explain things and are unable to accept that the strange occurrence may be due to their own actions or perceptions. Is mom’s favorite sweater missing? Horrifying as it may sound, to her the most likely explanation may be that you stole it! They are also grappling with the insecurity that comes with old age, so the “lie” may be an unconscious attempt to preserve their dignity. Dad can avoid the embarrassment of misplacing his watch if he believes the aide stole it.
Mistreatment and abuse of elders certainly does happen. But perhaps more often, the wrong exists only in the senior’s mind. What’s tragic is that these accusations are often leveled at loved ones and caregivers who are trying hard to make sure the senior is safe and comfortable.
How can you cope with this difficult situation? Here are some suggestions.
Bring in someone to help you. Find a third person to help you explain yourself. It may be a friend of your loved one’s, a staff member at the assisted living facility, or another family member. Seeing that someone else will back you up may help your loved one realize that they’re placing blame where it doesn’t belong.
Seek advice from a senior care counselor. An expert in senior care can teach you good ways to respond to your loved one. You may want to start with the Alzheimer’s Association’s 24/7 Helpline at (800) 272-3900.
Keep good financial records. Accusations often have to do with money. Being able to show documentation that proves what’s going on with a senior’s finances can help straighten things out.
Bring a family mediator on board. Sometimes within families there can be confusion about what to believe. A mediator can help everyone sort through the issue as calmly as possible.
Consult an elder care lawyer. This is only for extreme situations, but especially with accusations of abuse or major financial wrongdoing you may need to take serious measures to protect yourself.
Before you take any major action to address the problem, remember that your loved one may forget about it the next day and display no ill will towards you. In the strange world of dementia, sometimes what seems like a serious problem will simply evaporate. And always remember that such behaviors are caused by the disease, and often mean nothing about how caring or devoted you’ve been.