Why is My Elderly Parent with Dementia So Paranoid?

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One of the common effects of dementia is that it can make an elderly parent suspicious and paranoid. Paranoia is when someone fees mistrustful or suspicious of people, places and actions without any real evidence. The paranoia can lead to fear, frustration, anger, sadness and aggression in the elderly person. Their mood and behavior can be especially hard for family caregivers to deal with. As they learn more about their aging parent’s condition, they are better able to handle it.

Why are Elderly People with Dementia Often Paranoid?

Dementia changes the brain in such a way that it makes it hard for seniors to properly understand the world around them. The person has a difficult time remembering people, events and even timelines, so they build up false memories that are not based in reality. The result is fixed beliefs that are completely real to the person but are not true. Family caregivers can get very frustrated trying to work through their elderly parent’s paranoia.

Some of the most common paranoid delusions that elderly people with dementia experience are things like they need to go home, a family member or senior care aide is stealing from them, the police are after them, insisting that someone is alive that has actually passed on, visiting someone that used to live close but is now far away, or that they are late to work or another destination. Paranoia can cause intense mood swings, where one minute the elderly person is fine and the next they are very upset. Family caregivers need to recognize the cause of the paranoia and then work hard to minimize it or their elderly parents.

What Family Caregivers Can Do to Reduce Paranoia

How family caregivers react to their elderly parent’s paranoia is important because it can either heighten the suspicious feelings or help them to dissipate. When an elderly person is worked up about something, family caregivers should respond calmly and never engage in an argument. Trying to reason with someone who has dementia simply doesn’t work.

Family caregivers should make sure the aging parent can’t harm themselves and try to reassure them. Reassurance includes simple answers, redirection and soothing tones and actions. Saying things like “I understand your frustration,” “I’m sorry you feel that way” and “I’m here and I’ll take care of things for you” can often neutralize the situation. Soft music, gentle touches, and a new activity or snack may also calm them down and get their thoughts onto something else.

It’s important to do as much as possible to keep the elderly parent’s routine as stable as possible, because many paranoid delusions stem from their perception of the loss of independence and control in their lives. Lots of activity, a change in doctors, different senior care assistants, new visitors and even getting a new car can trigger something in their mind that reacts suspiciously. Family members need to remember to stay calm, avoid arguments, keep it simple and redirect their attention to give their elderly parent a chance to reset and forget about their paranoia for a while.


If you or an aging loved one are considering senior care in Dulles, VA, please contact the caring staff at Assisting Hands today. (703) 982-0050.