What's Making My Mother Paranoid
April 15, 2009 6:42 AM   Subscribe

My mother has become increasingly paranoid recently. How can I help her?

My mother is in her late seventies. She had a mild heart attack in the early part of this decade, but now that she's stopped smoking and my siblings and I have gotten her out of a rotten housing situation a few years ago, she's been doing pretty well. She's still mobile, if achey, and is still quite sharp for the most part.

However, the situation we got her out of, where there were drug dealers living next to her, seems to have stuck with her. She has frequently told my brother who lives near her (and me a few times during visits) that the drug dealers are still after her, even though she's now living in a senior community and has never interacted with the police about any of that. We've seen no signs of it at all.

Just last week, it got worse. My mom moved in with my brother for several days, as she was too afraid to stay at her condo at the senior community. She also thought there were lurkers about outside at my brother's house.

AND to top it off, she started thinking that his wife was wanting to hurt her. I'd gotten concerned when I heard she'd left her condo and I had wondered if she was going to get worse, and it seems she has.

My brother's done what he could to talk her down. I've talked to her too by phone, but I'm nowhere nearby to offer much help other than reassurance and advice. I'm told she's going to be moving back to her place and my brother's going to be going with my mom to her doctor.

I've done a little reading online about this kind of issue with aging people and it seems that it could just be something that can be lived with, could be an early sign of oncoming dementia or it could even by a side effect of taking statins (and my mother does take some sort of cholesterol medication, but I haven't confirmed what it is). The thing is that for health stuff, the internet is often full of anecdotal bullshit and snake oil. And since I'm not a medical professional, I know I have a tough time sorting the wheat from the chaff there.

I know you are not my mom's doctor, but I would like to hear from anyone with experience with paranoia affecting the elderly so that I can figure out what information might be helpful to pass on to my brother for when he visits my mother's doctor. I have no idea how good or bad her doctor is, but it is my experience with my own GP that going in with some foreknowledge can be helpful.

Anyone wanting to ask any followup questions or contact me for any other reasons can use the following email address:


Thank you.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You are rightly concerned. I'm so sorry to hear that you're going through this. It can be such a difficult experience to see someone you love behaving in strange ways. I'm hopeful you and your brother can support each other as you try to deal with this.

Your mother's doctor is absolutely the place to start as far as figuring this out. The most important information that he needs is a list of all the medications she's taking (prescription, over-the-counter, herbals, supplements), and then as much information as you and your brother can provide about your mother's behavior. Outside of the paranoia, has anything else changed? Has her attitude changed (for example, unusually playful/silly, or short-tempered and angry, or anything else that's a change from normal)? Is she forgetting things -- bills, leaving stoves on or water running, etc.?

In older individuals, lots of things can cause changes in behavior, including even relatively "routine" infections like UTIs, pneumonias, etc. If this has been progressing over time, though, the first things I would consider would be early dementia or drugs. So bring all the medication info you can, and any observations you have about her behaviors and actions.

Whatever happens, I hope you can find some answers and get good advice for supporting her and your family.
posted by davidnc at 6:54 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Definitely talk to the doctor.

Under IMNAD filter: One possible explanation is that this is a manifestation of Alzheimer's Syndrome. Some elderly folks with Alzheimer's get paranoid about things.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:16 AM on April 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Paranoia could be a symptom. I am not medically trained but can only speak from my limited (volunteer) involvement at the Alzheimer's Association. But if she exhibits other changes in behavior such as memory loss, has rapid mood swings or gets disorientated with time and place, it could be a sign of Alzheimer's. In any event, it would be good to be able to eliminate Alzheimer's if she not does in fact have it. Your GP can perform a simple memory test. The Alzheimer's Association website has more useful information.

Your mum is fortunate to have you and your brother care for her. Your support is most important and I hope you get the right diagnosis soon.
posted by serunding at 7:20 AM on April 15, 2009

I was once hired by a family who was dealing with an elderly relative with paranoia. She wouldn't sleep because she thought she would die alone if she fell asleep with no one there. Her sleep deprivation was causing other issues, too, so the family had me sit there with her in the evening while she slept. Sometimes I would read the paper to her or bring her a milkshake or look at old photo albums with her, but just having someone there for a few hours as she went to bed helped her immensely. Eventually she could sleep on her own most of the time, but she had me stop in every once in a while when she felt anxious.
posted by BlooPen at 8:42 AM on April 15, 2009

IANAD. I have known quite a few elderly folks with paranoia who have been greatly helped by a very small dose of Risperidone. I have no idea if it would help your mom, but it might be something to broach with her doctor when you meet.

Take care of yourself during this process too - this could be the tip of a larger iceberg and it's important to maintain good self-care throughout so that you're able to remain calm and supportive and healthy.
posted by barnone at 9:01 AM on April 15, 2009

barnone's mention of Risperidone reminded me of Sundown Syndrome. If your mother's paranoia occurs during the late afternoon or evening, it may be that Sundown Syndrome is a factor. My sister has Sundown Syndrome and when she takes a trip, Risperidone is used to calm her fears and anxiety in the late afternoon and evening.
posted by onhazier at 9:15 AM on April 15, 2009

Antibiotics for a urinary tract infection have produced many miracle cures from dementia. There are many minor things that may cause an elderly person to tip over into behaviour that worries their relatives. It is very important that it is not accepted as "just part of getting old", but that an experienced doctor runs the right checks.
posted by Idcoytco at 2:15 PM on April 15, 2009

My grandmother has had similar issues - believing people were in her kitchen at night, plotting to kill her. Believing that family members were stealing her clothes, and so on. It got pretty bad, and eventually her doctor put her on a mild anti psychotic, which calmed her down a lot.
posted by tomble at 8:06 PM on April 15, 2009

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