A person with dementia finds it difficult to remember things and remain in the current moment. This condition is due to the glitches in his brains that cause memory problems and change in personality. As a consequence, he develops a certain level of paranoia, which can be his way of projecting fear.
Paranoia is usually a result of delusion or a firmly-held belief in things that are false. As the disease advances to the middle and late stages of dementia, the person’s paranoia may focus on suspicions. He is likely to be suspicious of anything and anyone, especially those around them. For example, the person with dementia has forgotten where he left his coat, and a new care provider has just started visiting him. He may simply assume that the new visitor stole his coat. He may also accuse a loved one of infidelity when the latter suddenly comes to visit him.
Although the suspicion may seem a real experience for the dementia patient, never attempt to argue with him. Do not take offense on the accusations. Rather, take to heart that it is the disease that causes him to act in such a manner. As his care provider, you can help ease the situation, no matter how difficult it may seem.
Do not take offense.
Remember, it is the illness talking, not the person. Try putting yourself in his shoes and figure out what might be the reason behind the accusation. Listen to what might be troubling him, and understand the reality. And then, give the person your reassurance.
Do not argue or try to convince.
Allow the person to express his ideas and opinions. Never say, “Why would I do that?” or “Don’t be silly.” These statements can only make him more confused and agitated or even angry. He would think you are not listening to him or considering his point of view.
Duplicate the “stolen” item.
If he suspects that his money has been stolen, allow him to keep a small amount in his pocket. Or, if he keeps on looking for a lost wallet, buy at least two of the same kind.
Help him “search” for the missing item.
Assure him that you are going to help him locate the “stolen” object. Identify the places where he usually puts his things. If you have a simple answer, share it with him. But, do not give him lengthy explanations and do not argue with him. And, even as you “search” for the missing item together, try to distract and redirect his attention to a pleasant activity. You may also switch the person’s focus even before you start searching for the “missing” object. Say, “Before we start looking for your wallet, why don’t we have some snacks, then we will look for it afterward?”
Explain the situation to other household members.
It’s important that everyone in the house understands the changing behavior of the person. You should make it clear with every member of the household that false accusations and suspicions are brought about by the illness, and not a reflection of them.
Be generous of your non-verbal reassurance.
A gentle touch, a firm hold of his hands, or a hug may do wonders to ease the person’s feeling of fear and agitation.
See the person’s physician.
In case the person is showing a severe delusion and you fear he might hurt himself, talk to his doctor. A medical evaluation may be needed to ease the problem.
Understand that a person with dementia tries to make sense of his world – the world with diminishing cognitive ability, confusion, and fear. As his caregiver, you should be able to explain to every member of the household how patience, love, and understanding can help the person with dementia.