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How to Care for an Elderly Loved One

Looking after an elderly loved one can be similar to raising a child, except your kid wouldn't accuse you of hiding the car keys. Learn how to handle difficult situations and still keep your cool.

It's 3 a.m. when your aunt with early-stage dementia calls in a panic. She lives alone but says there are strangers in her house who won't leave. What should you do?

A. Calmly assure her it's nothing, but promise you'll check her doors and windows in the morning.

B. Call 911, then drive to her house.

C. Change the subject so she forgets about the strangers.

Those "strangers" could be characters from an episode of Law & Order your aunt was watching—or actual burglars. "Until you identify a pattern of delusional behavior, always respond as if there is a real problem," says Molly Carpenter, caregiver advocate at Home Instead Senior Care and author of Confidence to Care. Moving forward, assess your aunt's house for lighting issues or shadows that might trigger a delusion. And don't spruce up her place by rearranging furniture or pictures. Familiar surroundings will reduce the chance of future 3 a.m. calls.

Answer: B

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