Accusations and Memory Disease: A Hard Road for Caregivers

Harriet Hodgson

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Alzheimer's is a progressive disease. In the moderate stage of the disease your loved one may make unfounded - even wild - accusations. Personality changes are common at this stage according to http:/// What kinds of accusations are we talking about?

The University of Maryland Medical Center says people with memory disease may accuse their spouse of infidelity. This is a hurtful accusation and you may be accused of other hurtful things. Nancy L. Mace and Peter V. Rabins, MD, authors of “The 36-Hour Day, " cite examples of memory disease accusations. Two of them: “You are cruel to me" and “You are not my spouse. "

People with memory disease may accuse loved ones of trying to kill them. Caregiving is hard enough without accusations like these and you have to survive the final stages of disease.

My mother thought people were stealing from her. Often the missing item was in plain sight, but my mother could not see it because she had visual agnosia - the inability to identify objects and people. Finding lost items did not stop her accusations. Dealing with these accusations was hard for me because my mother had snitched someone's teddy bear.

How should caregivers respond? The Alzheimer's Association of Los Angeles tells caregivers to “respond carefully to threats and accusations. " You cannot reason with an impaired mind so do not waste time on arguing. It is wise to prepare yourself for accusations for they will come. Here are some proven responses.

1. AGREE. Nothing diffuses an argument faster than agreeing with an agitated person. You may agree that your loved one's new place is as small as a box. Or you may say, “No, the food here is not like the home-cooked meals Mom used to make. "

2. DISTRACT. A related topic may divert your loved one's attention. The above example about home-cooked meals is the perfect lead-in for a discussion of your loved one's favorite meals. Arrange for this meal, if possible. You may also distract your loved one with a new activity.

3. CHANGE LANGUAGE. Liz Ayres. an Alzheimer's volunteer and former caregiver, gives examples of language changes on http://groups. State instructions in a short sentence, Ayres says, and repeat them the same way. Ayres thinks “but" is an upsetting word and says we should replace it with “nevertheless. " “I know chicken's not your favorite food (smile) nevertheless I'd appreciate if you would eat a little. "

4. DISCUSS. Keep a written record of your loved one's accusations and dates. Discuss these accusations with your loved one's doctor and the Assisted Living or nursing home staff. Medications may have to be adjusted and/or new ones may be prescribed.

As your loved one's Alzheimer's progresses you will be the target of many accusations. Do not take them personally. Remember, you are talking to the disease, not the person you once knew.

Copyright 2006 by Harriet Hodgson

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelance nonfiction writer for 28 years. She is the author of 25 published books, including two on Alzheimer's. Hodgson is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and the Association for Death Education and Counseling. Her recent book, “Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief, " written with Lois Krahn, MD is available from A five-star review of the book is posted on Amazon. You will find another review on the American Hospice Foundation Web site under the “School Corner" heading.


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