Elderly Paranoia, Part 2

Mar 28th, 2011 | By Sharon Shaw Elrod MSW EdD | Category: Lifestyle, Health & Fitness

Paranoia is common in elderly and aging loved ones.  Fear is common as well.  This is the second in a series about paranoia and fear, and how to distinguish between the two. 

The first article talked about what paranoia and fear are. This article helps us understand how we figure out whether someone is thinking irrationally or realistically about a given situation?  More guidelines:

  • Begin by gathering information.  Listen carefully to the senior’s complaint.  Ask others who interact with her on a daily basis about the complaint.  Get as much information as you can to be sure you are dealing with what is real, not what is perceived.  Once you have the information, and are as certain as you can be about what is going on, you need to determine the best course of action with the senior citizen to address the issue. 
  • If you find she is paranoid and thinking irrationally about an issue, trying to talk her out of it probably won’t work. 
  • If the delusional thinking is of a minor sort (someone’s stealing my money, when that’s not happening; the man down the hall won’t leave me alone, when he’s not even interacting with her; the people down the street get in my house every night and eat all my food, when there’s no evidence of that whatsoever), you may want to talk with her primary care physician about medication for the paranoia.  If her thinking isn’t hurting her, or anyone else, you may decide to just live with it until/unless it worsens.
    A lot of people live with paranoia daily, and never do anything about it.  The delusional thoughts are their daily reality and that likely will never change with most seniors.  The important and deciding factor is this:  Is the irrational thinking hurting the senior or someone else?  If not, the best response may be to do nothing.

  • On the other hand, if paranoid thoughts are hurting the senior (or someone else), it is clear the issue must be addressed.  Medication and/or counseling will be required to deal with the hurtful behavior.  Many of us will find that paranoia in our loved ones doesn’t fall at either end of the spectrum we’re describing here.  A lot of irrational thinking isn’t hurtful–yet.  But there may be signs the thinking could move in a dangerous direction.  That is obviously when the senior needs to be monitored carefully for changes in his behavior that require medical and/or behavior health attention.

The next article will address dealing with fear and the dimensions involved with that defense mechanism.



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