Paranoia = Dementia?
August 2, 2013 5:36 PM   Subscribe

My parents sort of lost it after the 2004 election. I think they're getting even more out of touch and I don't know what to do as they age.

Some background: I'm in my early 40s working in a director level position in a white collar industry. My parents are in their late 60s and recently retired. I live a couple of states away in a large city and they are in a rural area of population 5000.

After the 2004 election they became typical tea partier types fixated on Fox News. I used to just roll my eyes and figure they were repeating things they heard on tv and ignored it. Every conversation ends up going into some rant about a collapse of America, socialism, Obamacare etc. They worry about me losing my job to a N---, having my hours cut to 30 (I'm salaried management, please) because of Obamacare, having my house reappropriated by HUD, and how I should really consider being armed to be safe in my city.

Recently, they've both become legal owners of multiple firearms and are applying for concealed carry permits. They've brought up creating a shelter with a stockpile of nonperishable food. I'm really uncomfortable with this now.

At what point does this cross a line into something I need to alert APS to? They are fairly wealthy and I don't think they've invested in gold bars or bitcoins. Their house is new and maintained, they're both healthy, and they still live a pretty upper class life. The town they live in is an all white monoculture in the middle of nowhere and I don't understand why they fear so much. Is the fear itself indicative of dementia? How should I handle this as they age?

I have a sibling, but sibling buys into all of this, too.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
No not at all. They sound perfectly reasonable to me. Are they self-supporting? Have they shot anyone with their legally-registered fire-arms? If not, leave them alone. Political differences (I am NOT a Republican) are a poor excuse or making someone's lives a living hell.
posted by brownrd at 5:39 PM on August 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

They don't sound rational by my point of view, but they sound like they're really buying into a lifestyle. We all, to an extent, buy into a lifestyle. Some more connected to economic and social realities than others.

All I can do is to affirm that as long as they are financially stable and healthy there is no real worry. What you can do is to be a great example of someone holding differing views but prospering nonetheless -- nothing else pokes a bigger hole in their narrative. If you want to risk alienating them, I'd politely question their assumptions by stating what you've observed and lived that contradicts their ideas.

They're unlikely to believe statistics that crime has fallen or that there are racial biases in law enforcement even if given statistics, but if you relate a story about a friend who's been pulled over or harrassed due to their race, it might help. Or they might think your friend is a victim because of all those "bad people" in that ethnic group.
posted by mikeh at 5:45 PM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think the fact that your sibling has the same loopy beliefs is a pretty good indicator that age-related dementia isn't what's at work here. This sounds distressing and sad, but I'm not sure there's much you can do other that telling them that you don't wan't to hear about their political beliefs.
posted by yoink at 5:48 PM on August 2, 2013 [16 favorites]

I am in my forties and facing something similar with one of my in-laws. Not necessarily the political aspect, but increasingly weird and aberrant behavior and ideas. Very subtle, and nothing illegal.

I think it just sort of sucks watching people you care about get older and scared and hostile and losing touch with things. You'd think with age comes wisdom, but turns out, not necessarily. If you weren't prone to wisdom in the first place it becomes increasingly apparent as you age.

I don't think you can do much about it but try to see and remember the good in them and keep your distance to the degree that you're able, while meeting your responsibility to see that they're not being victimized.

My Dad, who has Parkinson's, let fly with a particularly juvenile homophobic slur at the dinner table while visiting a month ago. I don't know if that's dementia, or that he was drunk (certainly) but it horrified and embarrassed me. I don't really think he would have said it if he weren't losing his mind a little, so I feel sad he's homophobic or feel sad he's falling apart. Why choose?

But in any case -- Fox News and that whole cultural ecosystem-that's a closed box. There is no way to reason into it and no way to reason out. They aren't doing anything illegal--unless there's something genuinely dangerous to themselves or others, I think you're sort of stuck with it unless something happens that causes some sort of greater reckoning.

At what point does this cross a line into something I need to alert APS to?

Health and safety, for themselves and others. If the garbage is being taken out, pets are being fed and taken care of, they're both showering and the toilets are working, they're eating, and they aren't threatening to go shoot someone or sign their house over to Nigerian king with an AOL account or driving around drunk -- that's kind of it.

Sorry you're going through it; feel free to MeMail me if you'd like to commiserate.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:59 PM on August 2, 2013 [15 favorites]

The guns sound scary though. Make sure you let them know EXACTLY when you're coming to visit and call them immediately before you ring the bell and have them confirm that they know it's you!
posted by DMelanogaster at 6:04 PM on August 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

The truth is, I have some uncommon religious beliefs that, if I elaborated on them in detail, repeatedly, to anyone I had a conversation with, would start to sound kind of loopy. And I am, to all accounts, sane. Clinically speaking.

However, no one wants to admit this, but the truth is that critical thinking skills and the ability to self-filter really collapses once people get into their late 60s or so. It is not dementia, but the aged really do lose the ability to evaluate new evidence and make judgments. This is why they tend to get flooded with so many fundraising appeals from charities and political organizations-- they are much more willing to sign checks and make donations.

Symptoms of "normal aging" include a decline in "fluid intelligence" and ability to grapple with problems they have not seen before. This is all perfectly normal, it is just that the times and the political movement they have latched on to has very deliberately and very skillfully learned to take advantage of their weaknesses. The media they consume is carefully calibrated to provoke reactions in them that they have no defenses against. However, their "crystallized intelligence"-- those skills they learned over their lives that ensure they can do their jobs, pay their bills, manage their budgets, and maintain their household -- should still be intact.

Perhaps remind them that THEIR parents managed to get through the Great Depression, WWII, Nixon, and a series of political assassinations while retaining a lot more of their own dignity that they themselves are.
posted by deanc at 6:33 PM on August 2, 2013 [21 favorites]

I have a somewhat similar situation with my in-laws. While they haven't gone down the path of concealed carry or stockpiling food, the political rants and warnings of IMPENDING DOOM because of 'the liberals' has increased over the past decade. After a particularly unpleasant episode, we don't talk politics. Ever. We listen politely and then change the subject. It's hard, but becomes easier with time and practice. Luckily, they have figured out that we are just not interested in hearing it at all.

What is has come down to is this: they are still fully functioning adults. It sucks that we can't talk about anything other than the kids, the weather, other family members, or their health problems. Any other topic just creates too much strife in the relationship. The issue has definitely impacted their relationship with us and with their grandkids, simply because we feel it is too volatile for frequent visits. (And it's exhausting! Not how you want to use your vacation time.)

I feel for you. We went through a similar panic a few years ago and freaked out over the firearms, possible dementia, concerns over driving, etc. But we slowly realized that we can't do much of anything. Just because they're not behaving they way you want them to is not enough to sound the alarm (unless, of course, you have legitimate medical concerns). Aging parents are not something that anyone can prepare you for, especially when they start to turn in to people you don't recognize anymore. Hang in there.
posted by LucyHoneychurch at 6:34 PM on August 2, 2013

The worry here is about the guns. Are they new to gun ownership? If so, this is a completely new and different set of skills, norms, and responsibilities they are going to have to absorb. Really, for their sake, make sure they are adhering to all of the lessons of gun safety, especially storage and separation of ammunition, keeping the guns unloaded and secured, etc. This is no different than if your parents never had a driver's license before and suddenly took up amateur racing. Just make sure they're actually learning the necessary skills, which is going to be harder for them to pick up than if they were learning about guns in their 30s or 40s.
posted by deanc at 6:38 PM on August 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Although you and many others may think so, concealed carry and stockpiling food and listening to FOX are also a pretty widely held beliefs and dare I say it, not abnormal. I think a lot of people tend to get more conservative as they get older. I have no data, just observations.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:50 PM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've done some lurking in prepper-type communities, and my take is that what drives a lot of the people who get Really Into It is the feeling of satisfaction (if not a fix/high) from doing things that they feel they can control... often as a sort of self-medication over a more subconscious feeling of being helpless/vulnerable/unimportant/etc.. I don't know if that applies in your parents' case, but it may be worth considering or even talking about with them.

For what it's worth, I think there are good rational reasons to have non-perishable food, water, flashlights, and other "survival" stuff on hand, simply as defense against bad weather. Though a focus on that stuff also signals that they've been dwelling on fearful thoughts of the unknown, they may (MAY) be appreciative if you can show more genuine curiosity and even support for those more benign--and possibly constructive--interests, so that if/when you need to intervene more aggressively on things like the guns, they won't just dismiss your concerns as part of your blanket condemnation of everything they do.

This may also be time, while they're still relatively reasonable, to have some in-depth discussions about making sure their ducks are in a row on things like long-term care, inheritance planning, Living Wills, document storage, funeral arrangement wishes, etc. -- for their protection as much as anything.

Wishing you luck.
posted by argonauta at 6:54 PM on August 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

I live in an area where these kind of people are not only prevalent, but considered normal (frightening as that may seem). I think the tipping point is when there is a real break with reality, not just a mimicking of Fox talking points.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 7:09 PM on August 2, 2013

Lots of otherwise perfectly undemented people have fallen down this same rabbit hole. I think it's almost like a hobby with them. It's got its own lingo, they get to feel like part of a group, there are boogeymen against whom they've all got to defend themselves, and there's all kinds of fun stuff to buy. Dried egg powder! Manual pump for the well! Reel lawn mower! AK47!!!! I mean yes, they're nuts, but not necessarily the clinical dementia kind of nuts. People do get more fearful as they age, and less able to critically evaluate new information, so you can see how this kind of hobby is just perfect for them.

Every generation has their version of this, it's nothing new. In the 50s people were building bomb shelters. When I used to live way out in the country, every single one of my neighbors was elderly and some version of prepper/antigovernment loony and this was 20 years ago. The guy to the right of me had barrels of provisions buried all over the woods. The guy across the street had a shotgun in every corner and was on the constant lookout for black helicopters. The lady next to him had a huge house clogged with dried beans, grains, etc., and two versions of every kind of appliance, one that depended on gas or electricity for now, one that didn't for during the apocalypse. Not a one of them had any trouble paying their bills, maintaining their homes, or keeping up with their activities of daily living. APS would have had no interest in them. I know it's distressing--my sister-in-law has now fallen down the same hole--but I don't think there's really anything you can do about it. And as long as they're being safe with the weapons, I guess it's a pretty harmless hobby.
posted by HotToddy at 7:59 PM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Are they in touch with non-crazy family and/or friends of similar age? Those people might be the ones to talk to, especially if they see your parents more frequently than you do. This could be a way of keeping tabs on them, but if the friend/family member is close and equally concerned, might also be a voice they will listen to that doesn't worship Fox News. It's hard for parents to be willing to take any criticism whatsoever from their kids, a friend or relative of their age may be different.

I can tell you one thing that can help pull people out of a closed-in, freaked-out mindset; fun and good memories. The thing about living in fear is, it's tense and isolating and not really all that fun (well, maybe the playing-soldier/survivalist fantasizing is fun for a while). So approach them from the point of view of, Hey Mom and Dad, maybe instead of sitting around the Fox News-blaring TV arguing, let's watch some old slides of trips, or look at old pictures. Let's go revisit someplace we used to go. Let's see some family friends we haven't seen in a while. Hey Mom, can you show me how to make that awesome thing you used to make? Hey Dad, have you done much with your hobby lately?

Fear is all about the what-might-happen; try to get your folks to be present in the here-and-now with you. (Sibling too, if they're around).
posted by emjaybee at 8:02 PM on August 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Do you have children?

Even if you don't I still would not visit them in their home any longer. Likewise, I would not socialize with them in public if they were drinking because I would have to assume they are armed at all times.

Guns freak me out.
posted by jbenben at 8:11 PM on August 2, 2013 [7 favorites]

Guns are part of normal, day to day culture in a lot of rural communities. Just because you're uncomfortable with them does not de facto mean anything more than that you are uncomfortable with them. The same is true of their political views, which you yourself say are mirrored by your brother. None of this sounds like dementia or anything it's appropriate to get APS involved with.

The reality is that the US is currently about as politically polarized as it has been since Vietnam, with the right moving more right and the left... doing whatever it is we're doing. Your family appears to reflect that. Couple the fact that the rate of change is moving faster than it ever has in history with the fact that age is slowing their ability to adapt and the situation is actually pretty understandable, though obviously disappointing and not admirable.

There's a lot of fear associated with getting older. You might try just focusing on the fact your parents are afraid and being sympathetic to that:

"Mom, you know I don't agree with you about Obamacare; I'm not going to try to change your mind but I feel badly for you guys that you're so afraid; that must be really stressful for you."

On the other hand, I'd draw some very firm lines around things like racism. "Dad, I respect your views but I don't want to hear racist stuff about black people. We need to change the topic or I'm going to have to go."

And make every call a "two strikes, you're out" thing so that if he doesn't let it go, you do in fact hang up.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:42 PM on August 2, 2013 [8 favorites]

It's a cult. I'd think of it that way rather than a health problem.

So investigate what to do when loved ones fall into cults.

Seriously. That survivalist/fringe thinking is a cult.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:52 PM on August 2, 2013 [8 favorites]

but the truth is that critical thinking skills and the ability to self-filter really collapses once people get into their late 60s or so

I'm interested in seeing a source for this, please.
posted by she's not there at 10:06 PM on August 2, 2013 [9 favorites]

Yeah, I agree it's disturbing, but it's not dementia.

My approach has been to be really out there and open with my parents about how great gay marriage is, how much Bush fucked things up, how concerned I am about the weakening of government institutions and the peril it puts us all in, all without necessarily starting an argument with them. Somehow, it helps that their only 2 grandchildren are my sons -- because this puts my own moral values into sharp focus, it makes me care more about what's right than their approval, and also because if they are going to write me off in their Glen Beck apocalyptic delusion, they're also writing off their grand kids and their only legacy. I mean, my life is joyful and hopeful and perhaps they'd like to be a part of it instead of going to live underground with a bunch of guns. I think people buy into this fear and paranoia because it's too easy to wall themselves off and be unchallenged. It's my job to represent the alternative vision of the future in a non-threatening way.

"Hey mom, how are you? I'm fine, but I had a tough day at work today. This horrible thing happened to an uninsured patient of mine. Let me tell you about it... yeah, I'll be so glad when The Affordable Care Act is in effect and this kind of thing won't happen as often and I won't be so sad at work anymore."

"Hey dad, do you want to fly up next weekend? Me and the boy got Mariners tickets from Chris and Todd, they're bringing their daughter Audrey and thought we'd all like to go with them."

"Hey mom...yeah, I just got back into town. Yeah, I heard about that horrible terrorist attack, pretty upsetting. Let me tell you about all the amazing stuff I saw at Burning Man this year..."

How the fuck else are they going to learn about this shit in their Arizona golf community?
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 10:30 PM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am also in my 40's and my Parents in their 60's ... but there is a big Difference: we live in Europe.

All that Prepper & Gun-Nonsense doesn't exist around here - since we don't have Fox-News and all that Right-Wing-Nut-Talk-Radio. Don't let anybody fool ya by saying having Guns is normal, especially Pensioners arming themselves to the Teeth. It's a cultural Thing and it's currently a very American Thing ...

Overall I would agree or point out the following Aspects:

1. Ageing has to do a lot with feeling vulnerable again, especially physically. So trying to protect yourself against a younger and more agile World is understandable.

2. Mental and most of all emotional "Agility" is a completely different Affair and depends mostly on the Person's Character and their social Environment. If you don't use these Muscles and are challenged to engage constantly you are "doomed" to become entrapped in your own little Bubble. This has less to do with Age, but forming Opinions and Habits (over a long Time).

3. The Questions of Death - similar to my #1, but on a deeper Level.


It depends how much Fear there is as well as mental and emotional Agility and Opportunity to change their Point of View.

My Grandma has changed her Views about "bloody Foreigners" after I had dragged her through various Countries (for short Vacations) and also meeting my Ukrainian Girlfriend at that Time. Nothing is more helpful than a positive Experience, especially against mental / emotional Obsessions ...

I also made her read different Newspapers - less Tabloids ("We are all doomed!").

So if you have a Chance to remove some of the "intellectual Poison" you might stand a Chance.

According to new Insights about Brain Plasticity we can learn and adapt to new Shit even when we are old. The Brain obviously changes over Time, but doesn't become set in Stone.

Once again it's a Question of Necessity (Environment) and personal Traits.
posted by homodigitalis at 10:56 PM on August 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

Become familiar with the gun laws of their jurisdiction and make sure they follow them. Look especially into the competency rules. Look for the NRA and the Stare rifle association's "rules of safe gun ownership" documents and make sure you and they both know them.

Don't work against them, because that makes you their enemy. Rather, agree to disagree on the merits of their plans, and make sure they manage their new obsessions in a healthy manner. They can buy all the guns they want, but would they please give you copies of the records, combinations to the safes and keys to the vaults so you know what all is around should they become incapacitated. You trust them with the guns, but you don't necessarily trust anyone else and if they aren't around to tell you what's up, their guns could cause a tragedy. Go to the gun safety courses with them.

If they want to stockpile food, god bless them. It's not the worst idea. But if they are going to do it, they need to manage it correctly. Have a proper pantry and stock rotation. Buy them a labelmaker so they can put the purchase date on the food, so they will know when it has gone bad. Remind them that their efforts are just fantasy if they aren't managing the food correctly. Should they ever need to dip into their supplies, it won't do them any good if all their food is spoiled.

So spoiled, disorganized food, or guns kept in an unsafe manner WILL be evidence to you that they aren't competent to manage themselves, and should that occur, you will have a duty to step in.

Basically, they can have their new puppy, but only if they promise to take care of it. If they don't, they will be proving to you that they are incapable of self care, so they better understand the consequences of the path they are heading down.

but the truth is that critical thinking skills and the ability to self-filter really collapses once people get into their late 60s or so

I'm interested in seeing a source for this, please.

My only cite is a recent conversation with a physician. Atherosclerosis reduces bloodflow to the prefrontal cortex, which reduces its ability to do its job.
posted by gjc at 4:49 AM on August 3, 2013

The Medscape article, "Paranoid Symptoms Among Older Adults," has info that might be helpful.

I wouldn't hang too much on the Tea Party (& related) thing alone in terms of a symptom of a disease or condition, since it isn't sudden onset, and doesn't seem to vary significantly from a world view they have held for quite a while (do you also suspect dementia in your sibling who shares their beliefs, for example?). If I were worried about signs of delusional dementia, I think I'd be looking out for beliefs and behavior that are less informed by mass/mob/media-driven hysteria, and more out-of-character, individual, personal and situation-specific paranoid delusions, such as unwarranted suspicions that friends, family, neighbors, etc. are stealing from them, trying to poison them, spying on them, for example – as well as taking into account other risk factors and medical signs and symptoms.
posted by taz at 5:47 AM on August 3, 2013

My parents are in their late 60s and recently retired.

This is a key. A lot of people don't know what to do with themselves when they retire. They've been going through the same motions for so long, and suddenly their days are empty and meaningless. People deal with this different ways -- my grandfather takes walks in the park and picks up litter, my grandmother watches soaps, my other grandfather lives in a retirement community and has more social activities than the average college student. Your parents have fallen into a different trap. It's nothing unusual or abnormal, and has nothing specific to do with aging -- more of a lifestyle change. My dad is in his 60s and pretty much the same as ever -- but mostly because he's still working full time and volunteering every night.

Your problem is more how to deal with family members who evangelize their extremist political beliefs. Their beliefs may be common, but it's still an extreme point of view. You have opposite political beliefs. The way a lot of families deal with this is to not talk politics, ever.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:42 AM on August 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

You know, I was watching Island Hunters. It was House Hunters, but the family was buying an Island in Key West. The guy kept talking about Zombies. How he wanted a place that Zombies couldn't get to. At first it seem whimsical but he kept saying it and saying it and it started to creep me right the fuck out.

Couldn't help but think that he was substituting Zombies, for some race or class of people he didn't want to mix with.

I am sure that he was 100% sane. A total whack job politically, but not insane. He just happened to have the resources to buy an island and to isolate himself.

I find that the whole 24 hour news cycle makes old people nutsy. My good friend's Mom won't turn off CNN and she haunts the liberal message boards to rant about this and that. It's no better than the Tea Party and Prepper loons, it's just different.

Your folks have made a huge change in lifestyle recently. They have free time and they're not using it well.

Sure, keep an eye on it. Try to reign them in when you can. But if you've got a brother stoking that fire...yeah, don't see a whole lot of change on the horizon.

Keep the lines of communication open and challenge the crazier assertions with calm, rational statements. Just don't be surprised if they go unheeded.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:17 AM on August 3, 2013

but the truth is that critical thinking skills and the ability to self-filter really collapses once people get into their late 60s or so

I'm interested in seeing a source for this, please.

My only cite is a recent conversation with a physician. Atherosclerosis reduces bloodflow to the prefrontal cortex, which reduces its ability to do its job.

I appreciate the follow-up. So, just to clarify, atherosclerosis (and, I presume, anything that causes a reduction in bloodflow to the prefrontal cortex)—i.e., not simply being in one's late 60s or so—can affect critical thinking and the ability to self-filter.
posted by she's not there at 7:22 AM on August 3, 2013

You know, for all this talk of ageing, I think it's worth noting that a) 60 is not old, and b) we elect presidents older than that all the time.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:20 PM on August 3, 2013 [4 favorites]

Pathologizing their political beliefs is counterproductive and also deeply disrespectful. I recommend against it for a lot of reasons, which I'd be happy to share if you wanted to hear them. I warn you that the first one is going to be the misuse of psychology against political opponents by murderous dictators, and that the list goes in a less-happy direction after that.

Signs of dementia, delirium, and clinical paranoia are also quite distinct from what you're describing: the closest you'll get to is "mass hysteria," and I think that's a completely inappropriate concept here as well.

So, focus on safety, on realistic preparations for the future (living wills, etc.), and on are they giving money to random strangers who aren't giving them stuff in return type stuff. Most of which gets worse in the presence of clinical illness or actual isolation (like, when one partner dies.)

Also, even FEMA says to store food and water, and we were almost always at a yellow or orange alert during the entire existence of the Homeland Security Advisory System. Your parents have as much reasonable cause to suspect it is you who is out of touch with reality, as you do to suspect them of the same.
posted by SMPA at 4:29 PM on August 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

My kindly, beloved great uncle was a long-sober alcoholic who wouldn't hurt a fly. He lived in a sleepy suburban neighborhood. When he died the family found loaded (!) rifles in several rooms of his house. It is really difficult to understand what threat he felt he was defending against.

The good news is that guns, statistically, are very safe. There are 300 millionish guns in this country and only 500-1000 fatal gun accidents annually. That's more than lightning (26), but less than the number who drown(3000-4000), so assuming they are following reasonable precautions it's not really worth worrying about. Gun accidents typically involve multiple errors of gun safety, if not outright recklessness, which doesn't sound like an issue here. You are well within your rights to decline to be in the presence of their firearms (concealed or not), but it's almost certainly not going to be a safety issue.
posted by wnissen at 10:57 PM on August 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Regarding the relative dangers of living in the city vs. rural areas, this is a good read.
posted by alexei at 1:33 AM on August 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's probably not dementia. My inlaws have been very right wing Fox news sorts of people since I met my husband. I am not. Husband is not. We still manage to get together and have decent conversations, but there are boundaries. I've made it clear I won't talk about politics, and if my husband wants to talk politics with his folks (and sometimes he does), I'll just quietly go in the other room and read until they're done. Also, I've asked that no politics discussions go on at the table, because I'd really like to be able to finish dinner in a pleasant manner.

It makes me sad sometimes, because outside politics they're genuinely decent people. They've come to help us out with our house several times, and they're active with a lot of different volunteer groups in the community. They just have these crazy politics and I don't understand how they can reconcile the crazy messages with the good they do in the community. But then, I remember that they feel the same way about me in some ways.

The one thing I do talk about, without censoring myself, is my coworkers. I work with people all over the world on a daily basis, and I will talk about things that involve them and use their names and over time, my in laws have come to realize that I like working with all sorts of different people, and that I won't put up with it when they make disparaging comments. A good example is a Muslim coworker of mine. She has a fairly obviously Muslim name, I've posted pictures of us together on Facebook, and mention her sometimes when I'm talking about my day. Originally, my inlaws were pretty ... obnoxious, actually, about her. For example (and this may be triggering for some folks):

Inlaws: How was your day today? (I usually see them after work)
Me: Good! I got a chance to have lunch with X!
Inlaws: Is she Muslim?
Me: Yes, she is.
Inlaws: She must hate America and be upset we took out Bin Ladin!
Me: No. She's American, was born in America, was really upset about 9/11, and hasn't really said anything to me either way about Bin Ladin. She doesn't hate America any more than you do.
Inlaws: Oh.


Inlaws: I heard that Muslims starve their kids for a month every year!
Me: No, they don't. You're thinking of Ramadan, the month of fasting, but they eat at night. Also, my understanding is that you observe if you're able: the young, the elderly, the sick, and pregnant women don't have to participate. You don't participate if you feel it will cause you harm. I'm sure the parents don't intentionally cause their kids harm.
Inlaws: It's still really weird.
Me: No weirder than the dietary things you observe during Lent.

I've found that the unrelenting... calmness that I use when contradicting some of this stuff really helps. I also find that remembering that these are the people who raised my husband and are kind in other ways helps as well. And over time, the crazy has lessened - or at least, it's lessened in my vicinity. It is sad, though, and my heart goes out to you.
posted by RogueTech at 9:46 AM on August 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is group-think, not dementia, and it's no different in old people than it is in younger ones. It's reached cult level in this country now, thanks to the freedom of speech that we (rightfully) stand for being exploited by a political party whose support comes from big business and corporations whose very existence depends on keeping the masses inflamed and buying their products and ideas. The nurture of paranoia has always proven effective at controlling large numbers of people - history proves it - and when those people, fervently convinced that they're fighting for their lives - are pushed in a given direction by those in control, a whole lot of damage can be done; that doesn't actually happen very often, though, since it's actually more beneficial to those in control to have a standing army of sorts, ready to take up arms for the cause when asked to.

Like all cults, the basis isn't reasonable or factual or provable or verifiable in any way - it's purely emotional, which is more powerful than fact or reason any day of the week. Most cults pull in young people, especially those going through the angst of the late teens and 20s, when they're trying to find their place in the world and frequently feel lost and friendless, at odds with the mainstream - a perfect setup for a new "friend" who "knows just how they feel" and "can help them out a little" - study of cults shows they always follow the same pattern. This new "cult" is more effective - at least it affects a greater number of people overall - because it goes after the older people, people who have more money to pour into the cause, but still via promotion of "we're all in this together." All cults seek to isolate their followers from the mainstream by painting the mainstream as evil or dangerous - the enemy.

I can't see one bit of difference between the Tea Party and followers of Jim Jones; just add a little bit of updated sophistication to his message and you have what we have now as a major political force in this country. Unimaginable a few years ago, but reality today.

Every day I have a greater realization of how fortunate I am to NOT have family who's fallen into that pit - I don't know what I'd do if someone I love had been pulled into this mess, but I have friends who are dealing with the same thing you are - good luck to you, sincerely.
posted by aryma at 11:47 PM on August 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with SMPA above - so, so much. When did we, as a society, grow such great expectations as to expect everyone to have the same political beliefs and anyone who disagrees with our specific brand must be either 1) sick, 2) in a cult, or 3) not at all there? Your parents are not that old, take care of themselves, and frankly, have a lot more experience than you, despite your hoity-toity city life. You, on the other hand, are both deeply intolerant and disrespectful of them and their beliefs. I'd recommend that you broaden your expectations and your tolerance of beliefs you personally don't agree with.
posted by gardenbex at 7:01 AM on August 5, 2013

When did we, as a society, grow such great expectations as to expect everyone to have the same political beliefs and anyone who disagrees with our specific brand must be either 1) sick, 2) in a cult, or 3) not at all there?

When people started screaming and ranting about crazy stuff that is simply out of touch with reality and potentially dangerous, given their advocacy of violence, even if it is cloaked in the name of "self-defense."

For about 40 years now, we've managed, as a culture, to accept that when someone starting ranting about a "race war" to walk away very slowly and accept that they're not really part of civilized society. Many of these ravings are not much different. Just because their views are common within their demographic doesn't make them rational or acceptable. I hold vaccination deniers in some of the same regard.

We expect people to be rational and civilized, and we worry about them when they start to detach from that.
posted by deanc at 4:33 PM on August 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

The scariest people in this thread are not the one's saying the OP's parents are correct in their views.

We expect people to be rational and civilized, and we worry about them when they start to detach from that.

Given the 2,000 year history of Christian belief, I think we can categorically say that even in Western culture that is patently untrue. Living in a plural society means allowing people to hold differing beliefs and opinions, right or wrong. Remember "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it"?
posted by DarlingBri at 7:00 PM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

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