Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas


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I am convinced that my 65-year-old husband has something wrong with him. He used to be so intelligent but now he's forgetful and muddled. He writes paranoid letters to neighbours, and is obsessed by one, who he's convinced is spying on him. He now also spends hours on the computer on the David Icke website. He agrees he's got more peculiar but blames it on our neighbours' pesticides. He used to write and paint, but now just gardens all day. Our mutual friends say there's nothing wrong and it's me who's paranoid. What can I do?

Yours sincerely, Emma

It's maddening to be confronted with a problem as elusive as this. And extra maddening when friends tell you there's nothing to worry about. After all, you know there's something wrong, your husband knows there's something wrong, so what are these irritating friends doing, friends who don't know your husband half as well as you do, telling you that there's nothing to worry about?

They're doing this, I'm afraid, because they're terrified. They hate to think that one of their own might be deteriorating. They're terrified of their own memory loss and muddle-headedness being symptoms of some debilitating disease, and they're ganging up in a chorus of denial to try to pretend that everything is all right. They're saying: we're all idiots when we get to a certain age.

Well, we aren't all idiots at a certain age. And you're not paranoid yourself – you're simply a caring, loving wife. And what your husband is suffering from isn't all right. And you know it.

Now, the forgetfulness and muddle-headedness might indeed be a symptom of general aging. But the paranoia is something else. And anyone who thinks their neighbours are spying on them has clearly got a problem – unless, of course, their neighbours are renowned in the area for being compulsive snoops. And if your husband's glued for hours to David Icke's website, that's another symptom. As far as I can gather, Icke believes that the world is run by a few powerful people in very high places who are paranormal – he calls them "lizards" – and, according to him, they're out to rule the world and make us their slaves. (I have to say, it's weirdly convincing if it's explained by a believer). But while this theory taps into the paranoid in all of us, the seed only gets properly planted in those of us who are most susceptible.

I'd get your husband off to a doctor as soon as possible, preferably sending him or her a letter first explaining your anxieties. Who knows what's wrong with your husband but there is a chance that your doctor can either delay the onset of some kind of dementia, with treatment, or that the problem might be something quite unrelated.

Trust yourself on this one, Emma. And see what can be done right now. Simple early intervention can, in some cases, work wonders.

Readers say...

Distract him

Your husband has far too much time on his hands and needs to be distracted. Try not to mention his peculiarities and organise some trips out to the theatre and to art galleries. Hopefully, he will regain his interest in writing and painting. If this fails, seek medical advice.

Marie Hale

By email

See a doctor

This lady's husband is clearly showing signs of early dementia – short-term memory loss, paranoia, withdrawal from previous interests. She should contact their GP and ask for an assessment, and find, if possible, a local Alzheimer's support group. The Alzheimer's Society itself has a number of helpful publications free of charge.


By email

Get some help

Please get help for your husband. He may have dementia (paranoia is a symptom) or it may be another mental illness. But either way, early treatment is so important.

Susan Staines

By email

Next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I'm fairly well-off, and people tell me I look good for my age – I'm 50. I'm divorced with a wonderful daughter, but though I do a lot for other people, no one seems to want to know me. I just can't get a girlfriend. I'm fine with short-term friends, but it's difficult to meet people when everyone I know seems to be married. I just seem to have dropped off the social rounds – it's as if I don't exist. I don't want to go online because I know it's full of gold-diggers and I'm reasonably well off. Is there any hope for me? Yours sincerely, Patrick

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