Growing up, my mom always displayed a healthy dose of caution and suspicion around strangers. My sister and I were taught to protect our valuables. Be polite, but guarded. As her Alzheimer’s progressed, Mom became suspicious more often, but her suspicions gradually included specific accusations.  

As an example, a few years ago, she misplaced her wedding rings. On days she realized she wasn’t wearing her rings, she would blame the in-home caregivers of stealing them. While we had pretty good relationships with her caregivers and knew, in our hearts, she must have just hid the rings somewhere, she was still convincing enough to leave us questioning if it was her Alzheimer’s at play or, actually, theft.

She also blamed her caregivers for stealing money.  Once, she accused a caregiver of having a party overnight. Sadly, she often threatened to divorce my dad claiming his efforts to help were unwarranted and he no longer loved her.

Even though we knew it was the disease that was causing these behaviors, it was still hard to reconcile what we were seeing and experiencing.  Suspicion about and accusations towards caregivers made some sense to us. When it was directed toward our family, knowing Alzheimer’s was the culprit did little to dampen the hurtfulness of the accusations.

But yes, it was, and is, Alzheimer’s that causes this behavior. And as I discussed in my prior blog, the situation, or each suspicion in this case, is very real to her and requires us to empathize and step into her reality to acknowledge her concern. I’ve found success in listening, empathizing, and moving to happy topic, like her grandkids. Sometimes it takes a few tries, as she revisits the suspicion over and over. And there have been times when nothing I try works.

The Alzheimer’s Association has been such a valuable resource to me. Here is their list of tips for dealing with suspicions:

  • Don’t take offense. Listen to what is troubling the person and try to understand that reality. Then be reassuring, and let the person know you care.
  • Don’t argue or try to convince. Allow the individual to express ideas. Acknowledge his or her opinions.
  • Offer a simple answer. Share your thoughts with the individual but keep it simple. Don’t overwhelm the person with lengthy explanations or reasons.
  • Switch the focus to another activity. Engage the individual in an activity or ask for help with a chore.
  • Duplicate any lost items. If the person is often searching for a specific item, have several available. For example, if the individual is always looking for his or her wallet, purchase two of the same kind.
  • Share your experience with others. Join ALZConnected, our online support community and message boards, and share what response strategies have worked for you and get more ideas from other caregivers.

If you have questions about Alzheimer’s care for a loved one, we are here to listen and discuss your situation. And if you’re wondering, my sister found my mom’s wedding rings as we were packing up her house for sale. They were wrapped neatly in a paper towel and buried deep in one of her drawers. It was reassurance that our suspicions of the disease, not hers of her caregivers or family, were the right ones.