How do we deal with an angry FIL?

4 answers | Last updated: Nov 01, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My father-in-law is really giving my husband (his son) a really hard time. Every day he calls my husband, accusing him of stealing his money and different things. My husband is the only child, so he has this to deal with by himself. He is so stressed and I really feel bad for him. His dad calls him all day while he's trying to work, and he also calls in the middle of the night going on over and over about the same thing. Could you please give me some advice?

Expert Answers

Kenneth Robbins, M.D., is a senior medical editor of He is board certified in psychiatry and internal medicine, has a master's in public health from the University of Michigan, and is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His current clinical practice focuses primarily on geriatrics. He has written and contributed to many articles and is frequently invited to speak on psychiatric topics, such as psychiatry and the law, depression, anxiety, dementia, and suicide risk and prevention.

I only have part of the story, so I am going to have to make a couple of assumptions. The first is that his concerns are not accurate; your husband is not doing any of the things your father in law is suggesting. If that is the case, your father in law is struggling with delusions, a form of psychosis in which someone has fixed, false beliefs. The fact they are fixed means trying to reason with him will not help; he believes what he believes. Even if you hire the worlds best accounting firm to go over his finances and reassure him that no one is stealing his money, he will not be reassured. He is likely to assume instead this accounting firm is part of the problem. I don't know if he is also demented, but if he is that would add to the problem and make it that much more difficult to stop the calls.

Since reasoning with him won't help, it is likely he will need anti-psychotic medications to help him. Before a physician starts such medications, however, it will be important he or she look for the cause of the delusions. There are a number of medications and medical problems that can trigger a psychotic episode, so that must be addressed first. If this is caused by a medication being used to treat some other problem, such as steroids, medications for Parkinson's disease or various psychiatric medications, the drug will likely need to be changed. If this is caused by an illness such as dementia, some other brain injury, thyroid disease or alcohol withdrawal, the psychosis may respond to treatment of the underlying cause. Unfortunately with dementia, we are generally unable to treat the underlying cause, though its progression can be slowed. If it is caused by a psychiatric illness such as depression, mania or schizophrenia, or if it is caused by dementia, it is likely the best approach will be the initiation of antipsychotic medication. There is a question I have addressed earlier on the site that goes into more specifics about antipsychotic medications.

Until your father-in-law's illness is properly addressed, I would not recommend arguing with him. It is likely only to further inflame his anger. I would suggest expressing concern about his belief, and then try to gently change the subject. Your husband may need to change his phone number at work and/or find a way to screen his calls. This may also have to be done at home. It is likely with antipsychotic medication the intensity of your father-in-law's delusions will decrease, but they not disappear completely.

Community Answers

Jeneration answered...

I know this isn't funny at all, but in my present situation I look for humor around every corner. I am 24/7 caregiver for my 90 and 92 yr old folks. Dad had a fall 2 yr ago leaving him with a traumatic brain injury and a c6-7 spinal cord injury fixed with a titanium rod. He's doing very well physically and is semi-invalid meaning he cannot ambulate without assistance, which he forgets. 1:30 am this morning he WANTED TO GO HOME, which is a common and recurring theme of perseverance. This time wide awake he demanded to get up out of bed and get in his car to go deliver papers to an attorney ... soooo we had round #2 of the Mexican standoff - him finally sitting in a kitchen chair and me on his walker cart, for like 30 mins. I had shortly before that when he was first agitated given him a .25 mg zanax ("vitamin") so I pretty much knew I would be able to talk him back to bed soon ;-) I did and he did and he slept till 7 :) The thing is, while this is probably about as challenging as it gets, I wouldn't trade it for the world. In his current mental state, I believe he would just be more heavily drugged if he were in an institution, and he doesn't deserve that :) He deserves to "have a standoff" every now and then if he wants - haha! I guess my point here is this #1 your dad does need to be evaluated and you and he need to understand as much as you can about the situation and #2 just like our children, no one can take better care of our parents than we can. Use the resources available, be kind to yourself by stressing less, and continue to shower your father with love. Bless you and good luck.

A fellow caregiver answered...

If I knew then what I know now friction between me & my sister would be less. My father accused me & my family of taking things from house when he was at his cottage for the summer. He is 97 & has parkinson & dementia and guess who he's been staying with for the last 5 yrs? Me & my husband. If we knew these symptoms would have him end up like this, I would have had him see a specialist then. He might have been on medication sooner & still be able to walk on his own. He will be 98 in Jan.

The caregiver's voice answered...

Simple straight forward answer: The primary caregiver gets the brunt of the care recipient's wrath. This was the case when my husband and I cared for my father with Alzheimer's in our home. My father lashed out at me, accused me to stealing his things, imprisoning him, while being kind to my husband. Likewise, when my FIL had heart surgery recently, he lashed out at my husband making all sorts of ugly accusations--trying to kill him, poison him; such that my husband having experienced this before with my father still needed to express his shock at his father's behavior. Unfortunately, my father wasn't aware of his behavior due to dementia. Once my husband's father's medication was reviewed and rebalanced, he was aware and apologized for his behavior. Some comfort indeed. If your father in law has dementia, the only comfort beyond medication is that the disease will progress and he will (hopefully) be a happier person due to declined awareness. Such was the case with my father. Brenda Avadian, MA