What To Do When Your Elderly Mom Thinks the Neighbors Are Spying On Her
Recently, a neighbor asked me if my elderly next door neighbor had talked to me about the men she heard in her home. It seems a few days ago, she thought two men had gotten into her home but when she came out to see who was there, they were gone. There was no one outside and there was no sign of forced entry. He was wondering if I heard something, which I hadn’t.
The thing is, it reminded me of many of my formerly elderly clients who had similar situations. One client was convinced that her upstairs neighbor drilled a hole in his floor to watch her in the bathroom. There was no hole. Another elderly woman was convinced she had a stalker for 12 years who followed her from home to home and went into her apartment to steal things. He also watch her through the walls. Yet another client was convinced that the couple next door were sneaking into her home and moving things around.
The similarity between all of my elderly clients who were convinced they were being stalked or watched was that they all lived alone. They all truly believed these things were happening and some went as far as to call the police or report the incidents to their resident manager (if they lived in an assisted living facility).
Is Paranoia Common in the Elderly?
The onset of paranoia, delusions and hallucinations can happen in the elderly. Mild symptoms include imagining a caregiver stole their wallet when they merely misplaced it. More serious incidents include them seeing an intruder in their home. Although this may seem scary to you, the caregiver, the main danger is the action your elderly parent takes in the situation.
Common Causes for Paranoia in Elderly Parents
Whenever I have a new medical issue, I immediately consult Dr. Google and create a worse case scenario – which is the wrong thing to do! If you are noticing your elderly parent is experiencing paranoia, I highly recommend a visit to the doctor.
There are some causes of paranoia that you can ask their physician about during your visit (note – these are extreme causes, in most cases, the cause of paranoia is medication or illness):
- Medication side effect
- Untreated Urinary Tract Infection
- Cognitive Impairment
- Vascular Damage from a Stroke or Head Injury
- Late Onset Psychotic Symptoms from a Physciatric Condition
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Brain Tumor
Can Paranoia in Elderly Be Treated?
The good news is, in most cases, your elderly parent can be treated for paranoia. A medical condition such as urinary tract infection may cause confusion, which could lead your aging parent to see or hear something that isn’t there. A problem with their hearing aide could cause them to hear things that aren’t there. Medication they take might cause hallucinations.
It is important to speak with your elderly parent’s doctor if they are experiencing paranoia or hallucinations. In many cases, it can be treated.
Tips for Caregivers on Handling Paranoia in Elderly Parents
It can be scary to hear your parent talk about the stalker next door or the upstairs neighbor sneaking into their home. Here are some tips for handling these conversations.
- Be respectful. Your parent truly believes these things are happening. Don’t tell them they are crazy or dismiss their concerns.
- Be patient and understanding.
- Don’t overlook small changes. Over time, they could become big issues.
- Reassure your parent rather than provide rational explanations.
- Look for possible triggers. For example, perhaps your elderly parent is lonely so seeing a neighbor’s interest in her that may not be there. Did the behavior start shortly after a medication change? Maybe it is a side effect from the medication.
- Consult their physician.
While it can be scary and overwhelming to have your normally sane parent telling you stories about a neighbor sneaking into her home or a peeping tom watching her get dressed, remember that your parent truly believes she is experiencing these things.
If you are dismissive or get upset, she may start hiding things from you, which will make it very difficult for you to know when there is a medical change or if she can’t safely live at home. Keep the communication lines open even though you are uncomfortable with the discussion.