“They stealing from me!”

October 5, 2010

One of the most common issues caregivers face is the dementia patient’s repeated accusations that someone (perhaps the caregiver) is stealing from them.   The items stolen could be money or anything else, valuable or invaluable.  How do you deal with these accusations?

First of all, realize that the dementia patient’s belief is very real to them.  You cannot convince them otherwise.

Second, realize that the inability to find things goes hand in glove with dementia.  The patient forgets where she put something, therefore, someone must have stolen it.  Isn’t it always easier to blame someone else than to blame yourself?

Third, if your loved one is in a facility, someone may very well have taken whatever your loved one is looking for, given the patient population in a dementia facility.  All of them have memory problems and have trouble remembering what is theirs and what belongs to someone else.  Label everything in permanent marker and usually, it will come back to you.

Fourth, when your loved one begins losing things, replace those things that would really matter if they were lost with similar items of lesser value.  Replace a diamond engagement ring with a similar CZ, putting the real one in a safe place.

But how should you deal with accusations of theft?  Again, the belief is real to the patient and you will only upset them by claiming it’s not.  Any action on your part must start from that understanding.  “Let me help you look for it.  Maybe they dropped it somewhere around here,” is a good response.  Begin by looking for the item, but help the patient get distracted along the way.  “Find” something else:  an old photo album, a favorite CD, a piece of artwork made by a grandchild — anything that could take the patient’s mind off the “stolen” item.

Say something that will calm the patient’s fears, just as you promise a frightened child that nothing can harm him in a world full of danger. This strategy gives caregivers the most trouble, because it involves what could easily be considered lying. “Daddy, your sport coat hasn’t been stolen.  I took it to have the seam repaired,”  or “No Mom, no one stole your banana.  I was hungry and ate it.  I’ll get you another one.  Remember when we made banana pudding….”  Think about it this way:  When you are having a tea party with a little girl, using pretend cups, pretend saucers and pretend tea, are you lying to her?  No, you are entering her world.  The patient’s world is full of fears.  Everything is losing its familiarity.     Playing along with what the patient is saying and calming those fears, even if it technically means lying, is not a bad thing.

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2 Responses to ““They stealing from me!””

  1. Beth Ward says:

    My daddy drinks the very small “old-fashioned” cokes and thinks that it what everyone drinks. He does not tell me but has a fantastic caregiver that he always tells that people are “walking out” with his cokes. First of all, he does not “wander”. He has severe breathing problems so he sits in the same chair day after day.
    We discussed this and decided to tell him the grandchildren were getting a coke when they came by to visit. It is a lie and I hate lying but sometimes redirecting and trying to avoid the issue does not work.
    My heart breaks over issue after issue with him but I try to deal with things as well as I and the caregivers at The Garden House know how. I think that the idea of lying to my own daddy makes me more upset than anything else.

  2. Ginger Rue says:

    Thanks for sharing this great information! Will pass along to a friend who is a caregiver.

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