Uncovering the Truth Behind "Paranoia"
Sleep habits often change with age. Older adults may awaken during the night due to pain, discomfort, low blood sugar or a need to use the bathroom. However, what kept Lucille awake at night was more terrifying. In her dark room, she often spotted a man outside her window, tap-tap-tapping on the glass. Or so she thought.
Lucille was an 80-year-old woman with mild dementia. She lived in her daughter’s home where her bedroom was on the second floor. A man tapping outside her window would be nearly impossible. So, her daughter dismissed Lucille’s fear-filled stories of the strange man as a crazy dream and paranoia. Lucille became increasingly frustrated. Visions of the man interfered with her sleep, and she was irritable and argumentative. Daily life became exhausting. Lucille’s daughter considered moving her mother to a residential facility, and contacted us for help.
We quickly determined the most pressing issue was Lucille’s interrupted sleep. In an effort to validate her fears, I climbed onto Lucille’s bed to understand her view. There, just outside the window, I spotted a tree branch that could easily resemble a human figure in the darkness. And, when the wind blew, that branch tap-tap-tapped against the glass. No wonder Lucille was frightened at night. Once the branch was removed, Lucille’s anxiety calmed, and she had more success sleeping through the night.
The relationship between Lucille and her daughter improved, so that we could focus more effectively on managing other aspects of her progressive dementia. Discovering the tree branch was a small, but essential success for everyone.