May 15, 2018

When is it acceptable to lie to a loved one with Dementia?

When is it acceptable to lie to a loved one with Dementia?

While very young, we learn the story of George Washington’s mishap with the cherry tree and his bold admittance to his parents, “I cannot tell a lie; I chopped down the cherry tree!” Truthfulness is integrated within our character, and oftentimes telling a little white lie can wrack us with guilt. But could it sometimes be good to fib when communicating with a family member with Alzheimer’s or dementia?

In accordance with the Alzheimer’s Association, “loving deception” entails allowing someone with dementia to keep uncorrected misconceptions to be able to reduce anxiety and agitation. For instance, let’s say your father with Alzheimer’s frequently asks for his parents. The fact is, his parents both died several years ago; but preventing him from re-experiencing the raw grief of learning this truth repeatedly provides a bit of comfort. A proper response could be, “They’re not here right this moment, but they’re out together enjoying the afternoon.”

Martin Schreiber, author of “My Two Elaines: Learning, Coping and Surviving as an Alzheimer’s Caregiver”, explains that there is little or no benefit to correcting loved ones with dementia. He mentions, “This is all about the power of joining the world of the individual with Alzheimer’s.”

However, it is important to limit the white lies to situations in which the senior would be upset and gain no benefit from being told the truth, particularly if questions about the situation are repeatedly being asked. There’s a time and place for honesty in Alzheimer’s disease, such as when a family member has just passed on, and the person deserves the chance to work through initial grief.

These further tactics can also help restore calm, in lieu of lying:

Shift topics to something more enjoyable or calming.

Make an effort to discern the emotion being expressed and help manage that.

Pay attention to the individual with empathy and acknowledge the feelings being experienced.

With an incredible number of Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s disease – as many as 5.5 million estimated in 2017 by the Alzheimer’s Association, and a full 32 percent of those ages 85 and older – it’s very important to all of us to understand strategies to effectively talk to those impacted by Alzheimer’s while we anxiously await a remedy. 

For more communication guidelines and strategies to apply with your family member with Alzheimer’s disease, contact the dementia care professionals at Continuum. We’re also on hand to offer highly skilled, specialized in-home care for anyone with Alzheimer’s, as well as education for families to better manage the disease. Contact us online or at (314) 863-9912 to learn more about senior care in St. Louis.