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Ask the Expert: Accusations

Ask the Expert: Accusations


What happens when the go-to tip (distract) is no longer working? In’s inaugural Ask the Expert column, Romina gives practical tips to one distressed caregiver.

Question: How do you deal with someone who accuses you of stealing? I’ve tried diverting her attention or changing the subject but lately she just can’t stand me to be with her. I’ve cared for her the last 13 years. It’s getting so bad, I don’t want to be around her. She’s on meds for dementia and depression. (not working!)

Thank you for your question. I’m sorry to hear of the situation you’re living through; you have my full empathy. Neither I, nor anyone, can blame you for not wanting to be around when these episodes happen. You don’t specify the nature of the relationship but based on the information, I can only guess the person you are speaking of is your mother. It’s difficult to be on the receiving end of false accusations – but it can be especially hurtful when the accuser is someone in the family to whom you have devoted time and care.

Right off the top, we need to address the medications. You mention that they aren’t working. Please speak to the doctor right away. Not only does her depression need to be addressed but the effects of the medication may be contributing to feelings of paranoia, hallucinations, or confusion.

The next thing to do is undoubtedly the hardest: Don’t take it personally.

Yes, that’s much easier said than done. But keep in mind your mom doesn’t suspect you are stealing—she believes it. This is the dementia speaking. Her brain has created its own reality and no argument or contradiction will change her mind. Step into her world and go with the flow. It can feel false but will de-escalate the situation.

You’ve done the right thing by employing diversion as a tactic. It’s typically the first go-to in these situations. However, as you’ve pointed out, there are times when diversion doesn’t work. That’s when we need to get creative.

Validate your mom’s feelings, take the blame if need be, and offer to help her look for whatever has gone “missing.” (“I hear your purse is missing. I’m sorry. Can I help you look for it?”)

There is always an underlying cause for the behavior: Have the room’s
contents recently been moved around? Is your mom having trouble locating where the item is?

Keep the environment familiar and make sure all personal items she’s most fond of are in one tidy, secure, visible area.

If the accusations always revolve around one specific thing–which can often be the case–have similar or identical-looking spares and use them as props. When you’re both searching for the missing something, innocently come across the spare (“Look, we found your purse.”) Does this mean you are deceiving her? No. It’s compassionate “lying.” If she finds comfort in locating the item—even if it’s a replacement— there is no harm done.

Place a sign where the item generally sits (for instance, on a shelf or atop the refrigerator). As you both look for it, guide her to where the sign and the item are, reassuring her that everything is in its place. (“Your purse is safe here.”)

If your mom finds it reassuring to keep the item close or on her person, then encourage her to do so. Does she want to carry her purse with her throughout the day? No reason why she shouldn’t. Having possessions nearby adds a sense of comfort and familiarity that may prevent or diminish feelings of paranoia

It’s important to also look out for yourself. If you are feeling overly sensitive to the accusations, walk away briefly (there is nothing wrong in that, provided the person is safe on their own), take a deep breath and allow the time necessary to gather yourself. People with dementia can be particularly sensitive to moods and reactions. The more worked up you become, the likelier they are to respond in an agitated manner .

There’s nothing easy about this, but do hang in there. I hope the tips above can make things a little bit easier on you. Good luck.

For more on Romina’s services, click here.

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Romina Oliverio

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