More often than you think, an Alzheimer’s or Dementia patient may falsely accuse their caregiver of stealing. They may also make accusations of abuse or persecution at the hands of a caregiver or nursing home. To be sure, all accusations should be investigated. The Alzheimer’s Patient does not invent stories from malice. But more often than not, the Alzheimer’s sufferer is mistaken in their reasoning.
Accusations of theft by the Alzheimer’s Patient
It’s more likely that the Alzheimer’s sufferer misplaced their own property. My Mom seldom put things away in the same place twice because she couldn’t remember where to put them. When she folded clothes or cleaned house, she couldn’t remember where things belonged. Household items were seldom returned to the same place twice, drawers and cabinets became a hodge-podge of various items. When visiting Mom, I was as likely to find a can of coffee in the bathroom cabinet as a roll of toilet paper under the kitchen sink. She no longer remembered her own filing system. Her brain no longer formed appropriate Associations of : Things to Places -
I can remember being in Mom’s home, (before Alzheimer’s diagnosis) preparing soup for our lunch. When I asked Mom to get the crackers, her eyes went blank. I assumed it was one of those “senior moments,” (I’ve had a few of those myself). She was caught off guard. But– she never remembered where the crackers were stored in her own kitchen and it took both of us searching for an half-hour before we found the crackers in a shelf over the entertainment center. I remember realizing the oddity of the moment, but convinced myself it was only mom’s age playing tricks on her. It was much later before I noticed so many items out of place that I knew there was a problem. Mom didn’t remember where anything belonged.
I think this is the heart of the accusations about stealing. The Alzheimer’s patient doesn’t remember where things belong, they only remember that something is missing. It must be stolen. And, generally, the Caregiver is the most familiar person to the Alzheimer’s patient. So in their misguided reasoning, the Caregiver Stole It. There is no rationale to this reasoning, but due to damage to the brain by the build-up of plaque, the Alzheimer’s patient can no longer reach a reasonable conclusion. They simply can not.
Since they no longer have short-term memory, they live in the moment–with no memory of all the moments that went before. Without memory of all those moments, they won’t remember that they misplaced the item themselves, they won’t remember all the caregiver does in a single day’s time to support and help and care for them. All they know is this one moment: their item is missing and the caregiver is present, she must have stolen it. A flawed deduction but the only one that the Alzheimer’s patient is able to make.
Without memory of past moments, it’s easy to understand why the Alzheimer’s sufferer remains in a state of confusion for most of the time.
Since the Alzheimer’s patient has no past memories, they also forget that they are no longer able to drive, or handle their finances, or babysit they grandchildren, or live alone, etc.
There reasoning about these losses is as flawed as their reasoning about their missing items. The Alzheimer’s Patient feels as though things, people and places are being stolen away from them. Therefore, they assume the caregiver won’t let them go home, find their mother, drive their car, or spend time alone with their grandchildren, etc. Since the Caregiver is in-control, to the Alzheimer patient’s way of reasoning, the caregiver is “at fault.”
How to Respond to the Accusations
These accusations are so personal and hurtful, the first thing we feel is emotional pain and the need to defend. The temptation is to strike back in an angry tone and let the patient know that they probably misplaced any lost items themselves. Yet, that would be a futile response.
No matter how well your reasoning sounds, they will not see your point of view. The plaque has damaged their brain so that their reasoning is flawed. No matter how often you try to explain the fact of the matter to an Alzheimer’s patient, they will not understand. They can’t help it. Most likely, if you confront the Alzheimer’s Patient in an angry or upset mood, they may well become angry and belligerent. To their reasoning, any confrontation is an attack against their person and they may become violent.
In most cases, I suggest that you agree with the Alzheimer’s patient at all cost. When my Mom would cry to go home and see her mother, I would say, “We’ll do it tomorrow.”
In the case of false accusations, you can not agree or pretend to go along with the patient’s accusations. To confront or argue could present a volatile situation, while agreeing would defame someone falsely. Instead, you do need to be sympathetic to their loss and perhaps persuade them to search for the item with your assistance, which is generally found where the patient misplaced it. With an arm around the patient you might suggest, “Oh my, your purse is missing? Let’s see if we can find it.”
Often the Alzheimer’s or Dementia sufferer makes the same erroneous accusations because items have been removed from their possession for their own safety; car keys, curling iron, medications, power tools, weapons, etc.
The first thing to understand is that this suspicious or paranoid behavior can’t be controlled by the Alzheimer’s Sufferer. It is totally out of their control. Their reasoning is flawed due to brain damage and they aren’t able to think any other way. Every minute is a new minute and they have no past behavior as a reference to judge any incident.
With a little ingenuity, there is always a safe way to handle each new accusation.
When my mom accused me of stealing her money, (this is a common accusation from an Alzheimer’s sufferer):
I retrieved several old bank statements, blacked-out all personal information and identifying account numbers and folded them into her purse. Mom carried her purse on her arm and would sit and go through each item stored in her purse methodically throughout the day. Within weeks those bank statements were soft as cotton from constant handling, but it was reassuring for Mom to check her money at a glance. And all accusations that I was stealing money from her stopped. My brothers thought it was quite ingenious.
Thankfully, my brothers were totally supportive of all my actions. We sat down to a family meeting as soon as Mom was diagnosed. Together, we went over bank statements, monthly bills, assets and liabilities. By making many decisions early-on, there were few problems later. If she was billed for a large expenditure such as an hospitalization, or yearly property tax, etc., I simply emailed to let my brothers know.
Often, it is more difficult for those family members who don’t see the patient on a regular basis. When hearing any accusations for the first time, they may not understand Alzheimer’s disease and it’s detrimental affect to the sufferer’s reasoning. Perhaps, a kind way to help them is to offer a gift of knowledge. Offer them a book about Alzheimer’s, that explains all the puzzling behavior that you’ve learned to cope with every day.
Below are several books that answer many questions about Alzheimer’s and it’s consequences to the patient and caregiver. If you are having a particular issue with your loved one, perhaps you might find a corresponding article and mark that page for future reference for another family member to read. I know my brothers were totally surprised when they first began to learn about some of mom’s faulty reasoning. It is not easy to understand unless you live with the Alzheimer’s patient on a daily basis.
Written by an experienced doctor who began his career as a geriatric psychiatrist, The Alzheimer’s Answer Book covers such topics as:
- What are the causes of Alzheimer’s and dementia
- What preparations do I need to make immediately after diagnosis?
- Are there medications available that help slow the progress of the disease?
- How can I tell if my parent is in pain?
- How can I avoid “caregiver burnout” when I’m constantly caring for a parent?
- Where can I find resources and support in my community?
- What are the differences between Medicare and Medicaid, and how do I know what insurance will and will not cover?
From Library Journal
It has been estimated that five percent of older people suffer from severe intellectual impairment. So these two eloquent and readable guides will be much in demand as the number of families facing the challenge of caring for a relative with some form of dementing illness continues to grow. First published in 1981, The 36-Hour Day follows the format of the previous two editions but has been thoroughly updated to incorporate new information on the latest research, several drugs that hold promise, and genetic aspects of Alzheimer’s. The heart of the guide remains unchanged, focusing on helping families cope with this progressive and irreversible disease. Besides tips on how to care for the demented during the various stages of the disease (for example, place a picture of a toilet on the bathroom door), the text discusses the different kinds of help available and how to seek it. Financial and legal issues are well covered, while sections on nursing homes and other alternative living arrangements provide advice and practical suggestions. Appendixes list recent books, videos, web sites, and U.S. and international organizations. The thrust of GentlecareR is a well-argued plea for a radical change in the way we care for Alzheimer’s patients. In outlining her program, Jones states that this rethinking involves people, physical space, and individualized programs. Everyone in the physical plant, from maintenance worker to director, belongs to the care-giving team, as do family members and volunteers. Only when impaired persons can no longer perform for themselves a task like feeding themselves or dressing should it be done for them. Care should concentrate on what can be done, not what cannot. Because her emphasis is on the need for a comprehensive program of care and concentrates more on the institutional setting, Jones does not provide as many practical suggestions or the depth of advice for home care that Mace and Rabins do. Rather, her book describes how facilities can be designed and staffs trained to optimize the quality of life for patients.
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