My 88 year old father is uncharacteristically making accussions of my mother. What could be wrong?

7 answers | Last updated: Nov 22, 2017
Anita m asked...

My 88 year old father is convinced that my mother has been unfaithful to him and berates her every day about it. What is wrong with him and what can I do?

Expert Answers

Lisa P. Gwyther, a social worker specializing in Alzheimer's services, is the author of The Alzheimer's Action Plan. An associate professor in the Duke University Medical Center Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, she's also a past president of the Gerontological Society of America.

It sounds like your father has a very common fixed false belief (called a delusion) about your mother's infidelity. People with Alzheimer's disease often have these fixed false beliefs stuck in their minds, and no amount of rational explanations or arguments will convince them otherwise. Rarely, these delusions of infidelity or delusions of theft (family members' stealing from an older person) occur in the absence of an obvious memory disorder. These rare single delusions may be diagnosed as late-life psychosis.

Delusions of infidelity are rarely based in some dark hidden or real past experience. It almost never helps to argue or explain that your mother is too frail, busy, or too moral to be unfaithful. Likewise, this is not the time to remind your father of his past infidelity, even if you are sure he is "projecting his guilt about past transgressions on to your poor mother." Your father is likely afraid of being abandoned by your mother, perhaps at a time he is feeling especially vulnerable or dependent on her.

You can encourage your mom to use a light touch in response: "I'm a one-woman man and you're stuck with me with me for now." Help her understand that denying her infidelity will only frustrate both of them and exacerbate his berating of her. Distraction might work just as well. When he berates her, she could just say, "well, we have plenty of time for that discussion, but you look like you need your favorite show, a walk or some ice cream." Asking him to help her with some task may distract him as well. Help her understand that these distortions in thinking are intruding on him. He is not choosing to make her life miserable.

She will also need your help in finding some time for herself, away from his constant accusations. That kind of stress will take a toll on her patience and her health. If none of these communication strategies work, and the accusations escalate, he should be seen by a physician (ideally someone familiar with use of antipsychotic medications in older people). There are risks, benefits and trade-offs in use of these medications, but if it is important for them to stay together at home, it may be necessary.

One note of caution. Ignoring escalating delusions is dangerous. Often delusions do require medical evaluation and treatment to break the cycle or the repetitive berating. It's just best to try non-drug strategies first.

Community Answers

Mabower answered...

I agree with all of the above. We went through the same thing with my parents, only it was my mother who had Alzheimer's. It really helped my father to cope by reminding himself that it was the disease talking, not mother.

Frequent reassurances that he loved her, as well as hugs, snuggling and hand-holding also worked. Also, keeping pictures of their married life handy and going over them reinforced the good times of the marriage and gave them both a chance to have positive memories and experiences. As my father was dying of Melanoma, it was very important to them that their last times together be loving, not unhappy. We children also reminded mother of the many years they had shared, of great memories we had of growing up with them, etc.. It was a lot of work, but really pulled our family together during those last months that they had.

Michael A. Bower, ACC, Life Enrichment Consultant

Gadjett answered...

Mom & Dad also had the problem, with mom doing the accusing. when I actually saw it happening, I suggested we see her doctor. He immediately put her on Aricept and that fixed the problem! that was about 7 years ago. Dad passed away 4 years ago, and mom is now in early severe Alzheimer's - but she never accuses dad anymore, and finally has almost completely stopped "seeing" or "talking" to him. Such a sad disease~~~~

Lwoods answered...

It is really difficult, painful & sad to see what happens with the alzheimers/dementia. I helped, cared for, learned from & loved my daddy for almost 10 years with the disease alzheimer's. He did & said things that were not his normal way. He became paranoid of everyone & all actions. He was convinced of things that were simply not true. You can handle it a couple of ways. Pray- a lot of prayer- wisdom to stay calm- to understand their reality IS reality. You will NOT win with them- you will NOT change their mind- people regress back to childlike behaviors & while you must still respect them as adults, you have to change the way you think, hear & respond to their every action & comment-It is difficult when it is your own that is sick- try to not take it personal. Hard when it is directed at you- but it would be that way with whomever the person in that caregiver position. Help your mom know that it is NOT her fault- she did nothing wrong- he is not well & NOT responsible for things that are said that are painful. Especially if they years they had before were good...Stay calm- try to redirect- if you can get help- even small minutes away- you need to clear your head too. Pray-God will supply your needs- Love your relative- & let them know you love them- constantly. You will be glad you did. Be sure to find a good doctor for them too- there are meds that can help- talk to your pharmicist always- and did i mention pray? Have prayer warriors to lift you and yours up to the Father- it is wonderful to have a support for you... God bless you. IT is not easy but there is hope-when there is love- there is always hope.

Anita marie answered...

I have been living with this exact horrible scenario for years now. My husband's behavior stopped for awhile, but now he is doing it again. He accuses me of cheating on him using the most disgusting language possible. I have been 100% faithful to my husband throughout our 25 years of marriage. I appreciate the advice about telling him that I am a "one man woman" and that I love him. I hope that helps to diffuse the situation. Defending myself certainly hasn't helped.

Valeriej answered...

I'm going through this situation now. It's horrible. He keeps ranting that I'm cheating on him and calls me horrible names. I wouldn't even repeat what he calks me. I have never cheated and have always been a good wife. This is so upsetting, but I keep telling myself that he's sick, it's the disease. After a while, that gets hard to swallow! I try to avoid the discussion and tell him I don't want to talk about this and walk away. He follows me, ranting and yelling insults. I'm only human. This is so hard to take. I feel like I'm living with a complete stranger. He keeps saying since we can't have sex anymore. I must be getting it from someone else. I've tries reasoning and talking to him but it does no good. I feel desperate!

Rutucker answered...

My husband has delusions that men are visiting me in our home. He has been impotent since prostate surgery in 1991. I have been a faithful wife for 62 years and have never given him any reason to suspect me of having an affair. Tonight when I visited him at the Senior Health Unit he again accused me of having two men in the hall and taking them into our bedroom. I finally just got up and left even though visiting hour was not over. Was that the appropriate action? He could not be distracted.