Virginia Ironside’s Dilemmas: My eighty year old mother has bouts of paranoia


Dear Virginia,



Every few days I look in on my mother, who is, at 80, quite frail, but fiercely independent. Recently she's been getting bouts of complete paranoia. She is convinced the neighbours are spying on her through holes they've bored in the walls. The other day she refused to let me in, accusing me of stealing from her purse. She won't talk to me on the phone and has been spreading rumours that I've hit her. Her doctor has tried to get a nurse to see her, but she just slams the door in her face. Is there anything I can do?



Yours sincerely, Angie

There is an awful moment in some people's lives when you do wonder whether you're dealing with them or some other ghastly being which has decided to inhabit their bodies. And, if it seems that the ghastly being has taken over, where, then, is the original person? Are they still in there, waiting to pop out at any moment? Or have they been crushed in perpetutity, never to appear again? If so, do you owe any responsibility to the cuckoo-like maniac who's taken over? It's not a syndrome exclusive to old people. Cult-members can exhibit the same kind of complete personality-change. And it can be a long wait, if ever, that you see anything resembling the "old them" again.

Well, you have to live in hope that either your mother is either waiting in the wings, to reappear like Little Richard after a farewell concert, or that some fragment still exists – a broken, twisted, shattered fragment, it is true, but still "her".

I have known two people like your mother, one of whom remained a paranoid nutter all her remaining days, and the other who suddenly seemed to recover, giggling embarrassedly about her past behaviour. These episodes came and went. But no one ever really knew what was going on.

Since there is nothing you can do legally, at this time – she doesn't need sectioning unless she's a danger to herself or others – my instinct would be to continue to ring every so often, even if she won't talk, but don't force yourself into her home. Don't push her, but don't abandon her. Be "there" for her, but not "here".

You have a duty of course to protect your mother up to a point, and try to make sure she is eating properly, but at the same time you have a duty to protect yourself. No one wants to to be accused of robbery and violence, even when the accusation come from someone who is clearly ill or "not themselves" in some way. You might pity and understand why a mad dog attacks anyone who comes near it, but the bite is just as painful, whether you are full of understanding compassion or not.

If you have teenage or adult children, would they be allowed over the threshold where you are not, I wonder? Some grannies, even mad grannies, tend to feel they can trust their grandchildren more, when they get into states like this.

Or perhaps her own doctor will be allowed in where nurses have failed?

Whatever you do, don't abandon her, but also don't blame yourself for keeping a watch only from the sidelines.

Readers say...

She needs help

My grandmother had exactly the same problems and was convinced neighbours were shouting at her through the walls. Nasty vile language. Eventually my mother confronted her kindly but firmly and persuaded her that she had to get help. It was difficult but had to be done.

She saw her GP who referred her for specialist help. She has medication and the symptoms have gone away. She has returned to a normal life and is maintaining her independence. It will be hard for you to tackle your mum, but please have courage, this problem can be helped.

Liz Brooks, By email

Have her sectioned

My mother's paranoia became so bad I had her sectioned. This sounds brutal but within six weeks she stopped being frightened and was virtually compos mentis again. This was achieved by someone in a uniform (ie not a useless daughter who "didn't understand") ensuring she ate properly and took her medication when she should. The staff also effectively re-socialised her, stopping her retreating, e.g. by persuading her to eat her meals in the dining room.

I suggest you persuade her doctor to see your mother for himself, not send a nurse on fruitless visits. Your mother is of the generation that still obeys doctors unquestioningly, so she will probably let him in.

Your mother's paranoia might be temporary or it might not. But at least she will get a proper diagnosis and be in safe hands; right now, she is confused, frightened and in need of help.

Joanne Aston, Thirsk, N Yorks

***

Is she eating properly?

My mother became paranoid in her late seventies and my sister and I lived 30 and 50 miles away.

When we discovered that she was not shopping and had nothing in the fridge, (although she insisted she did!) and social services became involved with a daily carer preparing a small meal, she improved noticeably.

When having broken a femur she went to a nursing home, with three meals a day, the paranoia stopped altogether. She lived on to be 97.

Bernice Broggio, Gateshead, Tyne & Wear

News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

    Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

    £40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    ***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

    £30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    ***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

    £35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker