Paranoid Parents: What’s the Line Between Paranoia and Cognitive Decline?


Mom thinks your stealing her money. Dad wants to bolt the front door shut at night, so the strangers don’t come in. Are these thoughts a normal part of aging or is there something else going on? Why is your parent being irrational? Should you just shrug it off and let it go, or be concerned?

First, it is important to confirm whether your parent has a valid concern for being suspicious before you dismiss it as just being ‘crazy thoughts.’ Many seniors do, in fact, get taken advantage of and are victims of fraudulent activity. Make sure that no one is entering the home that shouldn’t be there, and that there is no theft taking place.

Once you confirm that your loved one is safe within their home, it is time to uncover the reason for his or her suspiciousness. Has your parent been diagnosed with dementia? If so, some people with dementia do become suspicious or paranoid of other people. The home care worker becomes the target every time an object goes missing. It is not uncommon to hear “that woman is stealing money out of my purse and taking my jewellery”. The person with dementia lacks the ability to remember where they put their purse, and lacks the self-awareness to understand that they are the one who is misplacing objects. They can, no longer, judge the character of a person or distinguish between someone who is there to help and someone who is “bad news”.

Other causes of paranoia include illness, strokes, depression, delusional disorder, vision, and hearing problems.

Regardless of the cause, paranoia can be very difficult to deal with and frightening for family members. Here are ten tips for how to deal with a paranoid parent:

Ten Tips for Dealing with a Paranoid Parent

  1. Put yourself in your mother’s shoes. Think about how scary it must be to not understand what is happening in your own home, to live in a world that doesn’t make sense, and to be afraid all the time.

  2. Stay calm. Try not to get frustrated with the person or become impatient.

  3. Remember that the person is not doing it for attention. They truly believe that these events are happening. Don’t ask them to stop being silly or to stop talking about things that are not true.

  4. Do not argue or use logic to try to convince the person that they are wrong. Go along with them.

  5. Validate the person’s emotions. Say phrases such as “it must be very frightening to have strangers in your home” or “you have every right to be angry if someone is stealing your money.”

  6. Acknowledge the difficulty of the situation and say, “I’m sorry, this is hard.” If you can do nothing else, at least you can make the person feel as though you understand, and they are not alone in their concerns.

  7. Do not take accusations personally or to heart. The person is doing the best they can to live with the confusion, even if that means blaming you.

  8. Make a list that outlines where items are kept or stored: Your purse is in the front hall closet. The family heirlooms are in the attic. You gave your diamond ring to your granddaughter.

  9. Offer to help to look for lost items. Be on their side, rather than against them.

  10. If you can’t find the item, try to distract the person with an activity they will enjoy and promise to look again after you have a cup of tea together.

What if your parent refuses your help? Talk to their doctor and explain your concerns. Find out what the underlying cause might be and have them assessed for health problems. Tell your parent that the doctor wants home care to help with their medications or the housework. Sometimes an older person will accept advice if it comes from a doctor or “person of authority” rather than their son or daughter. Call the local Alzheimer Society and other community organizations to get tips on how to deal with your situation. You’re not the first person to have to deal with this. A geriatric case manager or aging specialist may be able to act as a buffer between you and your parent when the going gets tough. Above all, keep your parent safe and do whatever you can to ease their concerns.

Questions? Kimbrough law is here to help. Just give us a call 706.850.6910.

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