Expert advice

Paul Morgan: mental health advisor

Paul Morgan is Deputy Director of SANE Australia, the mental health charity. He is a leading expert in promoting understanding of mental illness in the community. ASK ME A QUESTION


Sunday, May 24, 2009
"As well as the familiar effects of memory loss and confusion, some people with dementia can experience what are called "psychotic" symptoms."


I'm a carer for my parents; my father is 89 and my mother is 85. Lately, my mother has been accusing people of tape-recording conversations they have with her because she thinks they're after two of my brothers. Today she accused me of being a lesbian and having an affair with some lady up the road. Apparently, I let them in at night and they flash their lights in her window. None of it is really happening but she truly believes it. What do you think is going on with her? I need to know so I can deal with it properly.


First of all, hats off to you for caring for your elderly parents! Unpaid family carers play a vital and unrecognised role in looking after the elderly and disabled in this country. Did you know that it's been calculated the value of the care provided is more than $30 billion a year? As we are all well aware, dementia is a growing problem these days because we're living longer. About one in five people over 80 develop the condition, so it is very common.

Only a doctor can diagnose whether or not your mother is affected by dementia, of course, so it's important you discuss this with her GP. An assessment can then be made and a plan prepared for treatment and support — including support for you.

As well as the familiar effects of memory loss and confusion, some people with dementia can experience what are called "psychotic" symptoms. This means that they can see or otherwise sense things that are not actually happening (hallucinations), and even develop strong, irrational beliefs unrelated to reality (delusions). Your mother's recent behaviour, strongly suggests that she should have an assessment, preferably by a family doctor with whom she is familiar.

While there is no "cure" for dementia, there is much that can be done to ameliorate its effects, including medication to reduce the psychotic symptoms. As well as contacting her doctor, you can find more information at the Alzheimer's Australia website or call the helpline on 1800 100 500.

If you would like more information or want to discuss this further, call the free and confidential SANE helpline on 1800 18 SANE or send an e-mail via

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