How should I deal with the accusation made my mother with memory loss?

3 answers | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
A fellow caregiver asked...

I need advice on how to deal with my mother's complaints and accusations. Many of them stem from her confusion and memory loss. She forgets things she agreed to or participated in and then blames me and my siblings for not including her or making decisions without her input. She just moved to assisted living, very reluctantly, after a fall that caused serious injuries. She hates it there and criticizes the care in front of the staff. It is very hard to communicate with her because she can't hear (severe tinnitus and hearing loss) and she is so confused and defensive. I love her and want to help her but find myself dreading a visit because I know I'm going to hear things like "you sold my house without even asking me" (she directed us to to that), "the PT has never showed me the plan" (she's been given copies of it three times), "this person took my ring" (she misplaced it), "I've never seen that doctor" (visited 3 times in past month). It doesn't work to correct her memory and changing the subject only works some of the time. Help!

Expert Answers

Joanne Koenig Coste is a nationally recognized expert on Alzheimer's care and an outspoken advocate for patient and family care. She is the author of Learning to Speak Alzheimer's. Also, she currently is in private practice as an Alzheimer's family therapist. Ms. Koenig Coste also serves as President of Alzheimer Consulting Associates, implementing state-of-the-art Alzheimer care throughout the United States.

Memory loss and accusations seem to be mutually inclusive. It may help to clarify your mother's diagnosis with a nerological evaluation. What is the reason for the memory loss? There most likely is an underlying cause such as a metabolic, psychologic, vascular, or neurologic entity. Knowing the basis of the confusion and the memory loss will help you to discover the best ways to react. Do assess Mom's previous personality; is her behavior now simply an exaggeration of her previous personality? If it is a significant change, then discovering to what the change can be attributed will go far to making your interactions more positive. For instance, with a disease such as Alzheimer's (AD) which is neurologically based, it will NOT work to correct or remind or question. Doing any of these will most likely make her more resistive and accusatory. She simply has not stored the information that you are wanting her to call upon. If she has no memory of placing her ring somewhere and it has disappeared, it is logical that she will think someone must have 'hidden it'; likewise not having stored the info about moving to an AL but remembering that you were somehow involved - however erroneous this recollection may be - seems quite logical to Mom whose thought processes have been injured.

You must try new ways to be in the 'world' that she now ihnabits where memories of early years are probably still viable while things that happened yesterday are already forgotten or, at best, not deposited in her failing memory-bank. I suggest you try little 'fiblets' that help us over some of these seemingly paranoic outbursts. When she misplaces something, try apologizing and saying, "sorry Mom, I took it to the jeweler to have it polished" or "I'm sorry, I may have misplaced it when I moved it from your dresser". If she states that the PT has not given her instructions, try saying, "What a shame. I'll see if I can get a copy". Untrue statements such as these help to diffuse accusatory scenarios and assure her that she is still functioning cognitively. This may even seem counter intiuitive to you at this point but I assure you fiblets work quite well for most older folks with memory loss and they go a long way to making your interactions more positive. Please take care of you!

Community Answers

Red hen answered...

Thank you JOanne. I recently discovered the magic of "fiblets" and they do make life easier!

Hedwig answered...

I find this very problematic. I have three siblings. Two of us who told the truth to our father about his need for assistance, have been the object of a slander campaign by the other two who found it expedient and financially rewarding to lie to our father in order to manipulate him emotionally and financially; the other two of us have probably been removed from his will. We have done what we can to present evidence to counteract the lies, but it is the lies that stick in his brain, to our detriment; it is very frustrating because he cannot retain the information we've given him, probably not only because of the cognitive decline but because accepting it means accepting that he has been swindled and manipulated by the siblings who have isolated him from us. If all we have to to stand on is the truth, how can we turn to the same deceptive practices of the ethically and morally challenged siblings? Our relationship with our father is damaged because of their lies. If we deliberately deceive him, that makes us no better, and leaves him stuck in a circle of lies. That makes me sick to my stomach.