Dealing with Accusations in Dementia Caregiving


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Let’s talk about a question I get very frequently about accusations. What do you do when someone living with dementia is accusing you or accusing somebody else of stealing from them, cheating on them, whatever else, or a double whammy – both cheating on them ˆ stealing from them?

So well, if it’s true, we’ve got a different problem on our hands, but if it’s not true, which probably isn’t if you’re watching this video, what do you say?

People will sometimes say to me, “Well, Rachael, I don’t want to embrace her reality because you know, I’m not stealing from her, right? So this is an example of a situation where you are going to embrace their reality just enough to get through the conversation. But we’re not going to say yes, I’m stealing from you! That’s not the point of embracing somebody’s reality. Embracing somebody’s reality just means that you are agreeing with their worldview and engaging in it. So we’re still going to pretty much do that.

I’ll give you two separate situations.

1. If a person is accusing someone else, a great example would be maybe the staff at your mom’s community where your mom is accusing them of coming in her room and stealing her socks, which of course, you know, is not happening. Or they’re accusing your brother of always showing up at their house and stealing money from them. Or they tell you that your father is having an affair. And you know, that’s not happening. What we can do here is say, huh?

That doesn’t sound like something that [insert the person’s name] would be doing. But let me look into it for you. That’s a great solution. You’re not saying no, because what happens if you say no, dad’s definitely not cheating on you. What is she going to say? She’s going to say, “Well, you don’t know. And he definitely is.” So instead we’re going to say, “That doesn’t sound like something he would do but let me look into it for you.” You’re taking it on. You’re taking on the problem. You are going to solve it and you’re not actually going to solve it. You’re not going to do anything to try to fix the problem because you know there’s no actual problem.

2. If someone is accusing you, you can say, “I would never try to hurt you like that. Let’s see if I can figure out where this money is going. You know, that’s disappearing from your bank account.” And again, you’re saying, that’s not something you would do. You would never hurt them like that. You can even say you’re sorry they feel that way.

Somebody told me recently they had a client where the dad was saying stuff about mom that, you know, mom had passed away and he’s going back and he’s saying, oh mom, did you know your mother, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And the adult daughter is like sick to death of hearing this nonsense about her mother, especially because it’s not true. And I said, there’s nothing wrong with saying – with telling the client to say, “Dad, that was not my experience with mom. And I’d really appreciate it if you would stop saying these things about her.” There’s nothing wrong with telling somebody living with dementia that you don’t feel like hearing this crap. There’s nothing wrong with it. You’re still allowed to say, “I don’t feel like hearing this anymore.”

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Rachael Wonderlin is an internationally-recognized dementia care expert and consultant. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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