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Published January 18, 2014, 08:31 PM

Minding Our Elders: Mother’s personality change upsetting

DEAR CAROL: I’ve been providing care for my mom for several years, first in her home and then in an assisted living facility. Mom was always a kind, loving person although something of a perfectionist.

By: Carol Bradley Bursack, INFORUM

DEAR CAROL: I’ve been providing care for my mom for several years, first in her home and then in an assisted living facility. Mom was always a kind, loving person although something of a perfectionist. She takes several medications for severe arthritis and also high blood pressure. Her memory has been slowly deteriorating over time, but recently she’s also become angry, paranoid and suspicious. The worst of it is that she’s been accusing me of stealing from her. The objects she says I took are things that she sold or gave away when she moved into assisted living. Her accusations hurt me more than I can say. I want her to see a psychiatrist but she refuses. What can I do? – LeAnne

DEAR LEANNE: It’s important that you don’t take your mother’s accusations personally. I know that this is very hard to do, but for your own sake please try to detach from her accusations and understand that this behavior has nothing to do with you. This is all about her illness.

Paranoia can stem from mental illness or any one of several types of dementia. The changes you describe can also be brought on by medication interactions or infections in the system. Sadly, people often resist seeing a doctor for memory issues because there’s still a stigma attached to brain disease. Alternately, she may think that there’s nothing wrong with her, so there’s no need for her to see a psychiatrist. Either way, convincing her to see a doctor can be hard.

Perhaps, without mentioning your mom’s mental issues, you can convince her to let you make an appointment for her with her primary care doctor by telling her that it’s time to get her prescriptions renewed. Most doctors want to see patients at least yearly before renewing prescriptions, so this is a logical first step.

It would be wise to document your mom’s behavior so that if she is worse during a certain time of day, or after taking a certain medication, there is a record of how often and when these episodes occur.

Since medications can cause mental changes, if you alert her doctor prior to the visit that your mom is showing disturbing mental issues, the doctor can pay special attention to her prescriptions. This is especially important if a new medication has recently been prescribed.

If your mom’s primary care doctor sees nothing that could explain the changes in her behavior, a referral can be made to a dementia specialist. Your mother is more likely to follow through with a neurology or psychiatric appointment if the doctor refers her than she would be if you tell her that she has mental issues. If she is suffering from dementia, a correct diagnosis is essential for proper treatment, so if she needs a referral I hope that the doctor can convince her to follow through.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carolbursack@msn.com.

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