Alzheimer`s Disease/Possible dementia

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Question
Dear Mr. Winkler:

I am very concerned that my step mother may be in the early or middle stages of dementia, although she hasn't been evaluated or diagnosed. I'd like to get your thoughts on how to help her and my dad, considering that they live 200 miles away. I visit once a month and talk with them on the phone nearly every day.

The situation: She and my dad have been married nearly 20 years and I go along really well with her for most of that time. Eight or nine months ago she suddenly started making wildly irrational accusations about me. For example she has accused me of trying to sell the house "out from under" them; going into the house while they are gone and stealing things (Knickknacks that I didn't want in  the first place); and trying to sabotage my dad's medical care. (I have suggested that a gerontologist evaluate him to see if he can come off some of the 18 Rx drugs he is taking.)

Would it do any good to try to reason with her? (For example, "why would I want to sell your house? That wouldn't benefit me.")

My dad is OK mentally but frail physically and he can't deal with this. He denies there is anything wrong with her.

She has hidden or gotten rid of everything I have given my dad - pictures, mementoes, some things that I gave him before he even knew her. So far, I am the only one in her large extended family who has seen this behavior. She is fairly normal around everyone else.

Any thoughts you have on this would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you,

JoAnne"

Answer
Hi Anne-  In my lay opinion,your mother-in-law in all likelihood has dementia and she should be seen by a neurologist.  Unfortunately, the medication out there right now have a limited impact on even slowing the disease, but I would still want her to be on it.  Your mother-in-law's "paranoid" thinking is fairly common and most experts recommend trying to get the individual to focus elsewhere when she accuses you of stealing or whatever.
I guess the best advice is for you to keep a close eye on things (perhaps including hiring someone nearby to check on your parents regularly and perhaps help them with household tasks. You probably need to focus on your father to help him accept his wife's illness and to do what he can to provide appropriate care. Since there are other siblings involved you should also urge them to maintain contact and see what is going going for themselves.  You could also contact the office of the Alzheimer's Association nearest them to determine what other services are available.

Alzheimer`s Disease

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Peter Winkler

Expertise

I can answer questions regarding the care of persons with Alzheimer's Disease. I have no medical degree and I am not qualified to answer questions of a medical nature.

Experience

I was the spouse and primary caretaker of my wife, who was diagnosed with dementia at the age of 53. I initially cared for her at home, but after her illness progressed, I placed her in a long term care facility. A year later, I found a nursing home for her and she spent almost 10 years there before she passed away.

Education/Credentials
I have an MSW (Master's in Social Work) degree.

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