6 Tips for Caring for a Mistrustful Parent

How to keep paranoid loved ones with Alzheimer's and dementia safe.

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- Posted on Feb 7, 2020

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For as long as I can remember, my mother has been mistrustful and suspicious of others. Through the years, I became accustomed to her behavior. It never crossed my mind that her actions—the occasional grumble that her neighbors were trying to steal from her or that she was sure she hear somebody talking about her behind her back—were a foreshadowing of dementia or Alzheimer’s. It wasn’t until Dad passed away, and she moved into a retirement community, that I realized the problem was bigger than I imagined.

After her move, my sisters and I cleaned out her home to put it on the market, and came across clues that signaled bigger problems with Mom’s state of mind. I was completely unaware of the potential health hazards and dangerous situations she had unknowingly exposed herself to living alone. Also, just how confused and paranoid she was of her surroundings. If I had known what to look out for, I could have gotten her help sooner. These tips will help you avoid a lot of the guesswork, leading to a quicker and better support system for your paranoid loved one.

1. Check medications frequently  

I wrongly assumed that because Mom’s memory seemed intact, she was taking her medications as prescribed. After she moved out, I found full bottles of both expired and current prescription medications hidden in valances and potted plants throughout her house. Filling a weekly medicine organizer for your parent and then removing the bottles can help ensure they take the right dose. It’s also a good idea to make sure pill bottles are not child-proof caps, which can be difficult for aging people—especially those with arthritis or other ailments.

2. Eliminate choking hazards

Once, while visiting Mom at her retirement facility, I noticed her speech was garbled.

I asked her what she had in her mouth, and when she opened up, I found her wedding ring! She was worried the other residents would steal it. To avoid similar situations, I convinced Mom to let me keep her jewelry safely locked. I also surreptitiously removed any small objects from her room that could be a choking hazard.

3. Remove items for tying or fastenin

Mom was nervous about neighbors entering her room while she was sleeping. She tied her doorknobs and windows with ropes, rubbers and even duct tape. An easy way to prevent this from happening is removing materials a nervous parent might use to tie themselves into a space.

4. Check for spoiled or outdated food

We found hidden food throughout Mom’s house, as well as expired food in the refrigerator. She would also hoard partially eaten food in her purse. If you live close by, try to eliminate outdated groceries and throw out any hidden food. If you don’t live close enough to visit frequently, perhaps there is another family member or friend who can make sure your loved one is eating well.  

5. Eliminate driving risks

Mom was adamant about keeping her car when she moved, even though her new residence provided shuttle and bus service. Like many people with Alzheimer’s, mom balked at anyone who questioned her ability to drive. If possible, get a doctor or occupational therapist to recommend or perform a roadside driving evaluation. If these professionals determine she is unable to drive safely, then that can take the decision out of your hands, and keep you from being the bad guy.

6. Find a doctor who specializes in geriatric care

Mom had used the same physician for decades. After she moved into the retirement center, however, I became more aware of her mental state and took her to a geriatric doctor instead. The specialist, who was up to date on new medications and therapies, was able to accurately diagnose and treat her.

Being the caregiver for a mistrustful parent can be difficult. But by being proactive and keeping their best interests at heart, you can help ensure their safety and wellbeing.

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