< Back to article

Dementia Behavior Can Seem Like Manipulation


Dementia can seem like regression into childhood, just like advanced age can. It can feel like you are tending a small child - mood swings, temper tantrums, self-pity, need for attention, etc. - all from a creature who wants to be the boss.

Dementia Behavior Can Seem Like Manipulation
Yes. The behavior in a person who you think has dementia can seem like manipulation. Experts in the medical and psychological fields say that it is not. And they are right. Manipulation cannot be present in a person diagnosed with dementia.
So, then what was going on with my mother?
A neurologist that was finally seeing my mom at the age of 93, told me that my mother did not have dementia. But she “…only has brain shrinkage that is appropriate for her age.”
What? That sounded like a brush-off to me. I was really frustrated. No dementia. But something else that I didn’t understand, and the doctor did not take the time to explain to me. But maybe there was nothing else the doctor could have explained to me. I tried for months to figure it out. My best response in the days following that comment from the doctor was to just ignore my mother when she seemed manipulative, and vent like crazy in the car on my way home from my visits with her.
Yes, some would say to lessen my visits if it’s that bad; that I had to think of my own health and mental wellness. But, she was my mom. I loved her dearly. And she and I were the only ones left in our immediate family. Everyone else had passed away years before.
About two years after the neurologist had made that comment to me I found what I had been looking for: what was making my mom into such a different person from the woman I knew as “Mom” during my growing up years, and in my earlier adult years?
As I grew from birth through the age of 66, my mother was a down to earth kind of person. Everything in her mind was done with full intention, without knee-jerk or sudden reactions. Every thought and action required her well determined planning and purpose, and it was always for the good and betterment of all involved.
My mother never got angry at me as I grew up, and never showed outright anger to anyone. For disciplinary purposes she would “ground” me to the house for a few days or maybe a whole week or month if the offense was extremely awful. That only happened once when I told her I was going to a movie with a girlfriend but met up with a blind date arranged by my girlfriend. I had been grounded from dating. My mother always found out, no matter how hard I tried to fool her. She could not be fooled. And it was all to my best interest. I learned this lesson: no matter what, do not lie to anyone, because it will always be uncovered; and even if it isn’t, the lie inside of me would eat me up into a hollow, bitter person.
All those years, 66 of them, everything seemed well between my mother and me. Then things changed. When my father passed away in 2007 (I was 62 – my mother was a heathy 86) my mom was managing her life and her home at excellent levels of care. In 2010 my older sister died of multiple kinds of cancer. Then in 2011 (66-90) my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy. She seemed to recover completely. However, she wanted me to move in with her for the months she was to recover. I did. During that time, she began to yell at me in public for silly things – trying to give her the receipt after a purchase. She would give me the money to make the purchase, and then I would give her the change and the receipt, but she insisted I was embarrassing her in public. She would yell at me while I was driving from one place to another with silly things. Like, I was going too slow. Or I should not have waved on the pedestrian to walk across the crosswalk. The food I cooked lacked whatever it was that she wanted. And on and on it went. This was so upsetting to me. I even loaded the dishwasher wrong. My mom was never a candidate for complaining or yelling before. But now, it was all she could do.
I am aware that surgeries, past the age of 60 can cause unpleasant side-effects. And I am aware that the deaths of my father and sister weighed on my mom heavily. My mother did take advantage of the free monthly counseling available in her area after the passing of my father. That was a great help to her, and they reminded her that they would always be there when she needed them again. They continued to check in on her, and I was grateful for that.
But, this newer behavior change wasn’t really making any sense. My cousin and I were researching the internet to find the answers. But came up short every time. My uncle, my mother’s brother, was displaying the exact, identical symptoms as my mom. What could it be?
Each time my mother stayed with me in my home, before she was in assisted living, I could see that she would deliberately dig the wheels of her walker hard into the carpet. It made a little ripple in the carpet. I decided not to make an issue of it even though we had only had this new carpet for one year. To this day, 4 years later, there are two ripples in our carpet that are there for all time because of my mother’s intentional decision to dig her walker into the carpet. But was she just trying to get back at me because she was mad at me for making her move? Was she being manipulative? That is what it looked like to me. As I waited for her to complete the walk into the dining room from the long hallway, she would pause at my side, look up at me with that cute little childlike tilt of her head and grin a big grin. Then she would be on her way again, digging up more carpet. Just a bit passive-aggressive, I think.
A few months before my uncle passed away, I decided to research “brain shrinkage” on the internet. I had never even thought to do that before because the doctor’s comment about it to me sounded like so much balderdash. As I said before, like a real brush-off.
To my amazement, “brain shrinkage appropriate for the age” is an actual medical diagnosis. Unbelievable! At that point in time, I did not realize that I would only have a little over one year left to enjoy my mother. She eventually passed away in November, 2017. But, I discovered what she was up against in this brain shrinkage problem of hers.
I learned that as we grow from infancy, our brains grow along in the equal needs of our chronology. As we get larger/taller, our brains grow larger/bigger. There is an approximate size for a 5-year-old and for a 10-year-old, etc. Eventually our bodies stop growing and our brains stop growing in size.
So, what is brain shrinkage? As we age, sometimes our brains begin to reduce in size – the brain slowly shrinks. I am not sure why this happens to some people. But, as I learned in my research, our brains can shrink in size back to the size it was when we were 12; then 10; then 5; and even back to the age of a 3-year-old. In this kind of change for an older person, since it is not a case of dementia, the memory areas of the brain are not destroyed or lessened. And the intelligence areas of the brain are not affected.
What this older person is left with is a mind that is sharp and clear, and with the intellect that they had when they were 40 or 50. And they have the memory of an elephant, if that was the case when they were younger. Now we have learned that brain shrinkage of the elderly means that the intellect capacity that was normal for them prior remains intact. And the memory capacity that was normal for them prior remains intact.
What does not stay intact in brain shrinkage are the cognitive abilities. The person’s capacity to make good decisions involving personal safety, relationship decisions, financial changes, etc. is diminished commensurate with the size of the brain.
The way to look at it is to try to assign the elder’s behavior with that of a much younger aged child. Example: My mom would never want to lock her front door so that all of her friends could just come in at will without the bother of knocking first and being allowed into the house. Her reasoning was that “…everyone in my town is nice. There are no bad people that live in my town. So, I can feel safe with my front door unlocked all the time.” Young children must be taught this principle of safety, even in our own homes. It does not come naturally. Maybe it is a 5 -year-old who needs to be taught this safety rule. During the door argument season, my mom’s brain was probably the size of a 5-year-old. As I began to look at her situation in this way, it did make it easier. What made it more difficult was that her verbal skills were that of a 50+ healthy woman. It was just her reasoning that was off. So, her judgments were not consistent with her intellect or her ability to recall information.
Another example of the brain shrinkage were the relationships that she continuously kept. When I wrote on this website a few years ago about my mom’s inconsistencies I got railed upon (criticized, kicked, attacked and denounced) by every comment. It was not nice or helpful. This is the first time since then that I have left a comment.
The comments from before indicated that I needed to feel blessed instead of frustrated that at the age of 90+ my mother still had friends to meet with, even if they were in their 40’s-50’s. The point here is that these people were what I call “elder vultures”. They wanted whatever they could eventually get from my mother: her house, her money, her jewelry; and in the moment: free lunches, etc. i.e. The man (my age of 66 at the beginning of all of this) next door would hug and hang on my mom like she was his long, lost wife. It was really embarrassing as his own wife looked on. He used his house next door as a vacation house for he and his wife. But, they always showed up at the exact time that I would bring my mother back to visit her home. I never could figure out why at the time. I later learned that he kept in constant phone contact with my mom. She had her cell phone glued to the inside of her pants pocket. And no one was allowed to ever handle it. Private territory. Like a little kid with his favorite new toy.
After the passing of my mom I learned that this man was a realtor (through an internet search) and had a realty company which owned several vacation homes in my mother’s area. The house next to my mother’s house was not this man’s personal vacation home like he always indicated. It was one of a string of rentals that he owned. My observation now is that he hoped to be in a pristine place to jump on the real estate band wagon as soon as or before my mother’s house went up for sale after her passing. I believe that he wanted my mother’s house because it was next door to one he already owned, making a nice marketing offer to someone looking for extra rental space for a larger group. To his surprise, our family always intended to keep the house for our own vacations, and eventually a retirement home for my husband and me. We haven’t seen or heard from the neighbor since.
The issue with this house example is that our whole family felt that something was wrong with the elaborate show of attention from this man toward my mom. It was equally as clear to all of us that my mom could not see it. She didn’t have the capacity to see it. Her brain size did not allow her to make that choice. It wasn’t until after my father died that the neighbor would come over and sit in my mother’s living room and they would talk so intelligently in utter detail (no memory problem) about the common places that they had both traveled to all over the world. And, yes, that was nice. But to have to step in and be so watchful to make sure that no advantage was ever taken was exhausting. Would he have done it if allowed? Yes. Would my mother have been able to stop it before it was too late? No.
Another “friend’ situation was with a woman who had been a family friend through one of my mother’s school friends. This woman was in her 50’s and was a real estate agent – the $1,000,000.00 Club! After my father died she began a similar show of attention as the neighbor. She insisted on birthday dinners, wine, etc. And she always insisted on bringing the birthday cake/cupcakes – homemade of course. And, where was I? For a while I enjoyed the fact that someone else was doing these things for my mother. But then I got suspicious.
My mother told me that she had gotten a phone call from the family friend while she was preparing to move to assisted living. My mother suddenly informed me that she wanted to reconsider the decision to keep her house. She was now thinking that selling the house was a better option. Why? Because Sally said so. Also, Sally told my mother that she would come over to my mother’s house and tell her which objects my mother could take to the assisted living place, which ones to give to the family, which objects she could sell in a garage sale and which ones she could donate. “You have got to be kidding me??!!” and that is putting it mildly. As a last resort, on the advice of my mother's lawyer, I wrote a letter to the woman and asked if she would keep her wonderful relationship with my mother on a family friendship basis, and to please leave business out of it. Since my mother’s passing, I have not heard from Sally either.
This issue of the brain shrinkage is what caused my mother to no longer be able to live alone. It was no longer safe. Besides leaving her front door unlocked all the time, she was allowing others to come and spend the night whenever they wanted, and she had allowed a couple to take care of serious medical needs without the family’s knowledge. Her mastectomy was the result of following this couple’s advice about a lump in her breast in place of getting to the doctor right away. She waited too long for medical intervention and eventually a mastectomy was the only option since the tumor had finally begun to exit her breast.
The journey into assisted living was excruciatingly painful for both of us. But we adjusted as well as we both could. The 4 years that I was so very involved in her care exposed many instances where I could see that she was manipulating me. And when everyone said that people with dementia cannot manipulate, I knew that there had to be something else, or everyone else was wrong. If you think your loved one has dementia, but you see signs of manipulation, consider brain shrinkage.
I have learned that older people who might appear as though they have dementia, CAN manipulate the other people around them. But instead of dementia, their issue is “brain shrinkage commensurate with their age.” Look it up. I am glad that I did.

I have similar situation with my wife, for every real life situation she interprets wrongly and starts shouting and arguing constantly, if I give explanation she does not want to listen but she picks up unfinished explanations and make her own interpretation but it always in negative way.
she has been this way ever since I married her, she was 24 then but now she is 36. its very hard to focus on further career growth and kids activity...I am going into depression state sometimes because of unbearable taunting ?

does dementia happen to such a young age people? oh Ya forgot to mention, she is 100% manipulative and tells complete wrong story to her won family.

whats the solution? save me

I caregive part time for my parents who both suffer with dementia. I work a full time job as well. In the past year my dad has run off 3 caregivers. I am at my wits end. I know it’s the disease, but why do I feel like he’s doing that on purpose so I will have no choice but to become their full time caregiver.

Why does a dementia patient be nice to family members and as soon as they leave have a superior and sometimes agitation behaviors toward the caregiver.

I see the current moments of others and have lived caring for an extremely manipulative family member who has developed dementia and been diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder. I think the BPD and dementia go hand in hand. As a nurse, working with the elderly and those with dementia for the majority of my 45 years nursing, this has been seen as an all too common occurrence - BPD and dementia. People with BPD are master manipulators or string pullers.

My mom is in a assisted living facility every time we pick her up she says nobody likes her that everyone that works there is against her there all talking about her. When she's the one that's aggressive to everyone there it drives us crazy what can we do. We ask every time she says it and they don't know what she's talking about.

My mother is 90 and Im positive she has dementia. She has not been diagnosed but she has been blaming me of theft and other terrible accusations for about three years now. We have never had a really great relationship though. She has always been so critical of me. I asked her a few years ago if she could say anything good about me. She thought for a few seconds and said: you dress well and you go to work every day. That was all she could possibly say about her daughter that has so many other qualities that others have always complimented me for. Anyway, the dementia is bad but no one else notices because she's just "a peach" to everyone else. She has become extremely hurtful to the point of telling me she hopes she dies so I can feel awful for the rest of my life. Im an only child and this situation has my blood pressure soaring almost daily.

My mum is refusing food she's 86yrs what can I do?


As a care Giver and personal experience they do not understand Manipulation at all .They can hardly remember certain things for 5 mins