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Paranoia

Living With Alzheimer's >> What They're Feeling | 04.24.15

Paranoia: feelings of fear and mistrust

People with Alzheimer’s and other dementias can grow distrustful and suspicious of those around them — even those closest to them. This can lead to unrealistic fears, as well as hurtful accusations that caregivers or other individuals are out to harm them, steal things or cheat them in some way.

Why is this happening?

Delusions are false beliefs that are often a symptom of middle- to late-stage Alzheimer’s. When these people suffer from delusions about the motives of others, this can lead to paranoid thoughts and behavior. Confusion and memory loss are also contributing factors. If a person misplaces something, they may quickly jump to the conclusion that it has been stolen. If they feel ill, they may believe they have been poisoned. If they are introduced to a new environment, their fears of the strange surroundings may cause their suspicions to grow.

How should you respond?

When faced with paranoid behavior or accusations, try not to take it personally. Don’t argue; instead remain calm and reassure the person that you don’t mean them harm.

Try to distract them by switching to a different activity, such as asking for help with a household chore. If they accuse you of stealing, try to help them find the missing item. It might be wise to purchase duplicates of the things that are often misplaced, such as purses or wallets.

In some cases, you might give the person the benefit of the doubt. Older people are often the victims of scams, and cases of theft or abuse have been known to happen in environments such as nursing homes. Carefully assess each situation to determine whether a person’s feelings of fear or paranoia are in any way justified.

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