Mar 21, 2016

My mother believes all the food at the memory care facility is poisoned

“My mother-in-law, 86, believes that all the food at the memory care facility she lives in is poisoned.

She will only eat food that a family member brings to her, and even then only fast food that is still in the packaging (like a McDonald's hamburger).

She never had any delusions or psychosis before. Is this the dementia or is there something else going on? We can't really afford to keep buying her fast food, but I'm afraid if we don't she will starve herself.”

Learn More - Dementia and Delusion

This question and response is based on an article originally published in Dementia By Day.

By Rachael Wonderlin

This type of delusion is something a lot of families deal with. Their loved ones with dementia may develop some sort of paranoia like, “my family is stealing from me,” or, “this food is poison,” or even, “my family is trying to kill me.”

While these delusions can be upsetting, we do need to pay attention to them. They could be a sign that something is medically wrong with your loved one.

For example, he or she could be exhibiting signs of a urinary tract infection. Perhaps he or she is having a mad reaction to a certain medication, or a mix of medication. The first thing that you’ll want to do, when hearing delusions like these, is to make sure nothing is happening with that person’s physical health.

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If you can rule medical issues out, that means it is your loved one’s dementia. It’s time to embrace your loved one’s reality, as difficult as that may be. Understand that the world that your loved one lives in is confusing and it makes everything easier when you agree with them. People with dementia do not always see the world the way that we see it.

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For example, in this instance, I suggested to the family that they go along with the story. Start saving the fast food wrappers and let the staff wrap the food they are serving up in the old wrappers. She will feel like the food is coming from outside the facility, but it won’t be costing any extra money or time. Make sure the facility has buns on hand.

Put everything they serve on a bun and plate it that way. While the food will be the same, it will feel more comfortable. And, most importantly, this woman will feel like her family is listening to her.

If your loved one thinks snakes are biting her toes when she sleeps, buy her a spray bottle and put some water in it. Suggest that the bottle has “snake repellent” in it, and let her use it.

If your loved one thinks people are stealing from him, give him his credit cards and check book back back - but cancel them first. There’s no harm in letting him have his cards to hold onto, as long as they make him feel more secure.

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Dementia care is hard, and delusions make it harder. If we can find creative ways to solve complex problems, life gets easier for caregivers and their loved ones with dementia alike.

Rachael Wonderlin also blogs and answers questions on Dementia By Day.

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