Unexpected Behavioral Changes in The Elderly – (Is This Normal?) Part III

Part III

In Parts I and II of my series on unexpected behavioral changes in your aging parent, we’ve discussed the ins and outs of both changes in personal hygiene and increasing agitation. Today we’re going to be looking into paranoia, our third unexpected change in behavior that you may be seeing in your own aging parent.

  1. Paranoia

Does your aging mother call to complain that her nurse/housekeeper/neighbor is stealing from her? Worse, does your mom even accuse family members—or YOU—of taking the craziest minutia from her home? Nothing you say can convince her otherwise. Maybe she watches her cleaning person like a hawk, following the woman from room to room, certain that this poor lady is the reason behind your parents’ diminishing window cleaner supply.

“You owe me a pill. I counted and one’s missing.” This is another common complaint from those who are slipping into the grips of such paranoia. I have a client, a working mom of two whose mother-in-law lives with the family and requires full-time assistance (such as being driven to and from all medical appointments in addition to her own errands), who’s almost always accused of either stealing, dropping, or somehow otherwise misplacing a pill between her harried drive from the pharmacy and back to the house where they all live.

Why is the mother-in-law even counting what’s in her pill bottles, anyway? What’s that about?

The truth is, the mother-in-law may or may not have even counted her pills. She may just be angry (at any and everything); she may be trying to exert some form of control, reminding the daughter-in-law that she’s always watching out for the family’s safety. Who knows? Maybe counting the pills is somehow soothing.

I’m always going to suggest a medical appointment for an older person whose demeanor has changed to this level. What needs to be deciphered, for example, is whether or not Mom believes she saw her neighbor sneaking into her home in the middle of the night to steal her houseplants (a hallucination), or whether Mom is so overly anxious about her own health, finances, abilities, etc. that she’s started to become paranoid about the world around her and is therefore lashing out with anxiety-induced accusations.

Often, some elderly folks may be helped by taking medication to help alleviate the very real anxiety that can come along with growing older. Here’s one more tip: Have Mom tested for a UTI (urinary tract infection). Simply stated, routine medical hiccups do not always manifest in the elderly in the same manner as they do in the general population at large. A physician who is knowledgeable in caring for seniors will recognize sudden onset of paranoia as a reason to take a urinalysis, which is a great deal less costly (and frightening) than a brain scan.

In the meantime, if I can be of help to you and your family during this time of change, please reach out to me so that we may start a dialogue.

All the best.


Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.

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