Neighbor Sees Imaginary People. How Can I Help?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

My neighbor is an 85 yr. old female, widowed approx 1 year ago. She has short term memory loss, possibly due to Alzheimer’s. Beginning about 4 months ago she started complaining about imaginary people in her back yard, sometimes doing damage to her property, sometimes just hanging around out there. Her son (approx 60 yrs. old) lives with her and just tells her “There is nobody out there” and she gets angry at him. I have gone over a couple of times and walked out with her to her yard to show her that there is no one there and no damage. I also have given her a pair of binoculars to use to help her to prove to herself that there is no one out there but the problem continues. She has even called the police a couple of times. How should I interact with her when these episodes occur? Thank you.

A. Your neighbor is lucky to live next door to such a caring person. It is very kind of you to care about her well-being enough to try and find ways to help assist her when she is confused and frightened.

When these incidents occur try to maintain a calm and relaxed demeanor. If she sees that you’re calm and relaxed it may serve to decrease her anxiety. Speak softly but firmly reassure her that no one is there. You do not want to take a loud tone because it might frighten her but you also want to be authoritative. She may get angry with her son when he says that “there is nobody out there” because of his tone of voice. Perhaps the manner in which he speaks to her is dismissive or flippant. Also, continue to do as you have done, which is to walk to the yard with her to show her that no one is there and no damage has occurred. You may have to do this many times but if it helps her to feel better then it’s worth doing.

It might also be helpful to inquire about whether there is anyone she can call or have come over, other than the police, when these incidents occur. Is there another family member other than her son who she can call who has the ability to calm her? You can also suggest to her son that he take her to a doctor to have her evaluated or to have her medication adjusted. Paranoia can be a sign of Alzheimer’s. But it might also be a sign of an uncontrolled disorder that can be treated. I hope this helps.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 5 Jan 2009

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2009). Neighbor Sees Imaginary People. How Can I Help?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 22, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/01/05/neighbor-sees-imaginary-people-how-can-i-help/