"My Mom Has Dementia and Is Telling Lies About Me"

When a person succumbs to any form of dementia, it's hard on family and friends. We hate to see the diminished capacity of a loved one spiral downward. We hate to see someone we love be so frustrated. However, one of the worst things we have to cope with is the fact that a person with dementia has a flawed memory, and this flawed memory can cause them to tell others terrible things about us, simply because their brains aren't working correctly. To them, what they are saying is true.

Have you ever looked for something you are sure you left in a particular spot and found it missing? Most of us have. Sometimes, we even wonder if someone in the family moved the object, since we are so sure we left it in that spot. Later, we find the missing object, and then remember when we moved it. If we're lucky, we didn't actually confront a family member for "messing with our stuff," and our minds are presumably normal.

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Short-Term Memory Loss Could Be to Blame

Imagine someone with dementia who has diminished short-term memory capacity. The person places an object somewhere, and then wanders off to do something. Later, this person can't find what he or she is looking for. Anxiety, frustration and a sense of loss accompany most dementias. Add paranoia to the list, and you've got a scenario where the elder feels taken advantage of, and sometimes that leans toward thinking people are stealing things.

Unfortunately, there are many instances where people have taken advantage of someone with diminished mental capacity. This is a terrible fact of life. However, there are also many instances where a person with dementia specifically asks a caregiver or family member to get an object repaired, or buy to something for them using cash they provide, and then the person with dementia forgets that they not only gave permission – they actually requested that the caregiver do this. When the elder or other person with dementia discovers an object or money missing, accusations can fly.

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If it Weren't so Sad, it Might be Funny

The AgingCare.com community is populated with stressed caregivers who are experiencing this problem. Even when the caregivers are just washing the care receiver's clothes, or getting their groceries, the caregiver can be faced with accusations of stealing.

I remember the last year of my mother's life when she accused me, behind my back to the nursing home housekeeper, of taking her clothes from her so I could wear them to work. It was funny in its own way, but painful that my mother really thought me capable of this.

What I was doing was the same thing I'd done for years. I was taking her out-of-season clothes from her closet and replacing them with season appropriate clothing, including some fresh items. We'd done this little switch-out for years, and it had been fun. That last year, it was sad.

How to handle people with dementia who tell lies

Then, there are abuse issues. Again, there are horrible incidences of physical elder abuse. The worst ones make the news, but many go undetected or unreported.

However, many people are accused of abusing their loved one because the person with dementia has lost the ability to connect with reality.

When the caregiver tries to wash the elder, or change his or her clothes, or even take the elder in the car for an appointment, an elder with dementia has been known to scream out, seemingly in pain. The person isn't doing this to cause trouble. He or she is frightened.

I can't stress strongly enough that I'm aware of very real elder abuse. But I do know, from personal stories I've been told, as well as from the AgingCare.com forum, that caregivers are often the target of accusations from the very people they are giving up much of their lives to care for. This is happening because the person with the failing memory cannot make sense out of his or her environment. They aren't trying to cause trouble. They simply can no longer make sense out of life.

How to Cope

  • Get the help of a third party, whether it's a spiritual leader, another family member, nursing home staff or an old friend of your elder's can help.
  • Call the Alzheimer's Association for guidance, as they see this often and have trained counselors to help.
  • Get out financial records if the accusations are financial (they often are). Keep good records from the start, but have them ready to show to your elder or the accusing person.
  • Engage an elder attorney if necessary. This is extreme, but sometimes it happens that you need legal counsel.
  • If you have siblings or others who believe the other person and not you, you may want to engage a family mediator.

Often, these accusations are transient, and the person with dementia forgets the incident. It's hard for the caregiver to forget that he or she has been accused of stealing or harming someone they love, but this is a time when we must remember that the person is sick. However, sometimes we have to protect ourselves. When we must, we must.

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Over the span of two decades, author, columnist, consultant and speaker Carol Bradley Bursack cared for a neighbor and six elderly family members. Her experiences inspired her to pen, "Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories," a portable support group book for caregivers.

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