Suspicion and Paranoia

If someone you care for suddenly grows jealous or suspicious, sees things no one else does, or accuses you of something you haven't done, you will probably feel unsettled, hurt, or angry. Remember that whatever she is experiencing is very real to her. There is no point in arguing or disagreeing with someone who perceives something that isn't real. The best thing you can do is reassure her, perhaps helping her search for the source of her anxiety.

Help her look for things she thinks someone has taken. Try to find her favorite hiding places for storing objects she later reports as lost. Also, stock up on replacements for commonly lost items, such as wallets and hats.

Nonverbal reassurances like a gentle touch or hug can go a long way in comforting someone who is out of sorts because of dementia symptoms. Respond to the feeling behind the accusation and then reassure the person. You might try saying, “I see this frightens you; stay with me, I won't let anything happen to you.”

Seeing Things

If your loved one sees or hears things no one else does and doesn't seem bothered by it, you shouldn't worry. If the pattern continues, speak with a doctor. Seeing shadows and patterns on a wall or reflections on a TV screen or in a mirror often triggers hallucinations in people with dementia. Sometimes a person with dementia may think she's heard something — children playing outdoors, for instance — or smelled something, like smoke from a barbecue grill, that may also make her think she's seen something that isn't there.

Redirect her attention to what you are saying. Try phrasing your responses like, “I see why you think that was a bat. It's a shadow.”

Essential

If your loved one grows suspicious, be sure to explain to other family members, caregivers, and home helpers that her accusations are a part of her illness. This is particularly important with people who don't know her well, or with children and teenagers, who might not understand.

Your loved one is losing her ability to recognize faces and distinguish time and place. So if a grandson she hasn't seen in a while drops by to visit, she may mistake him for a stranger, either when he's there or later, when she's feeling anxious about something else. Or she might think he's the handyman she's been expecting and wonder why he's sitting down to chat, rather than fixing her sink.

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