Among the symptoms of dementia are delusions—fixed beliefs that do not represent reality, but are used to fill in gaps in one’s memory. These delusions can be fairly harmless, but often, they involve distrust or aggression, such as accusations of theft or infidelity.
When your parent is suffering from fixed delusions, it’s important to be able to respond in a way that won’t cause aggravation or exacerbate the problem. To do this, it helps to know what’s causing it.
Delusions are used to fill in gaps in memory and to explain feelings of helplessness or lack of control over one’s life. Your parent may begin to think that you are stealing from them or trying to poison them, for example, all to explain their sense of lost control. These beliefs are fixed—no amount of reason or proof will change their delusions.
Tactics to Use
Since these beliefs are fixed, you need to work with your parent from his or her own version of reality. Don’t try to contradict it. Instead, be gentle and follow these steps:
• Listen: Pay attention and show that you care.
• Show understanding: Acknowledge their statements without necessarily agreeing with them. Indicate that you understand what your parent is going through. You can even suggest that you help them out in some way to put them at ease.
• Gently change the subject: It helps to redirect their attention, perhaps by suggesting a different activity (like listening to some of their favorite music) or moving to a different topic.
• Seek professional help: Delusions could lead to aggressive behavior. If this is the case, the intervention of professional caretakers might become necessary.
Throughout this process, do not respond with questions of your own (“Why would I steal your wallet?”) or with contradictory arguments (“I know for a fact that she isn’t cheating on you”).