My grandmother called out of the blue last night, accusing me of breaking into her home during the night — not to steal, but to move things around, in an attempt to make her think she is going crazy! She accused me of rifling through her belongings, snooping on her, and telling the neighbors about the belongings and goings-on in her house. She said that she knows what I’m doing, and she doesn’t want me to do anything for her anymore. She packed up all of my childhood mementos and put them in her garage, told me to come get them, and then told me that, if she sees me in her house again, she will shoot me! Wendy, I live in a different state – to suggest that I would drive in the middle of the night to her house is unbelievable! I have been dutifully helping my grandparents for years, paying their bills, doing their taxes, taking care of all the financial issues and paperwork when my grandfather passed away, with exactly no inconsistencies or irregularities. It’s been relatively thankless work, but I do it out of concern for their well-being.
My sister said that my grandmother recently accused her of the same, and, as a result, they are no longer speaking to one another. I had been tasked with helping both her and my grandfather because her relationship with her children is tenuous at best, a result of the same types of accusations over the years. (I feel that I should note that she accused my grandfather of the same things when he was alive, despite no evidence of such behavior and despite his being wheelchair-bound and physically incapable of moving many of the things she accused him of moving).
I am genuinely concerned for my grandmother. Not only can she not handle her finances (she scratches out the numbers on her checks because she doesn’t want the people she’s sending her checks to to have access to her account numbers), but she has also become increasingly paranoid to the point of pushing the entire family away. (Her doctor had her on anti-anxiety medication, but she decided to quit cold-turkey without informing him, and I believe this is a part of the problem). She has always been somewhat paranoid, but it is now to the point of completely consuming her interactions with everyone.
I am at a loss for what to do. Can I call her doctor and notify him of this change in her behavior? And if so, to what end? She can’t be forced to see him, or to take medications, but I am afraid for her and what will happen to her if she pushes everyone away. What if she has a medical emergency? Who will know if they aren’t allowed near her home and she won’t speak to them? I want to call her and try to speak with her rationally, but that is impossible if she is having a bad day (as far as the paranoia goes), and if she truly believes that everyone is out to get her, I mean, realistically, there is no rational conversation to be had with a paranoid person. Please help, I don’t know what to do. — Worried Granddaughter
You are a loving and compassionate granddaughter and you have gone above and beyond over the last few years to care for your grandparents, but the time has come for you to ask for help. This is not your job alone. Your grandmother actually has adult children who should be pitching in! Is your parent — the one who is her child — still living? If so, approach him or her about supporting you. Round up your parent’s sibling(s) as well as your sister and any other adult relatives in the area and have a family meeting to discuss what to do about your grandmother.
I found this helpful column about dealing with aging parents with dementia that you should check out. Pay particular attention to the part about a Power of Attorney. Who is your grandmother’s POA? Honestly, that’s the person who should really be taking on the bulk of caring for your grandmother’s finances. What about guardianship of your grandmother? Is there a guardian? There should be. Here’s how to obtain guardianship and also here (again, this shouldn’t necessarily be your job just because you’ve taken on a regular care-giving role; one of your grandmother’s kids really should take on the responsibility!).
Also note the part in the column about getting cooperation from an aging family member’s doctor. Absolutely, you should be contacting your grandmother’s doctor and discussing her behavior with him or her:
I encourage adult children to jointly write a letter to the doctor explaining your concerns. E.g., ‘we’re all worried about Dad because he is verbally abusive, has made many mistakes with money lately and his behavior is erratic.’ Give an example or several. Have all involved sign the letter. The doctor is now on notice of the problem and may request an appropriate evaluation. The doctor may be more persuasive than family in getting your elderly parent to accept help.
The main point I want to make to you is to stop taking all of this on yourself. Caring for an aging family member with dementia and paranoia is emotionally and physically taxing, and there’s no reason you need to take on 100% of the burden. If there are other family members, enlist their help. I don’t care if they don’t have a good relationship with your grandmother. This is as much, if not more, about supporting you as it is about supporting her. And beyond family members, you should be enlisting the help of professionals who specialize in supporting relatives of aging/ill/senile people. Talk to your grandmother’s doctor and tell him exactly what is going on in as much detail as you can (including the important detail about her refusing her medication!). Contact a social worker. Get in touch with a lawyer about obtaining a POA and/or guardianship. You are not an island here. Round up your people and make a network of support. Your grandmother needs it, but, more importantly, you need it.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.