When is it OK to Lie to Your Parent with Alzheimer’s?

When is it OK to Lie to Your Parent with Alzheimer’s?
Is it a betrayal to lie to someone with Alzheimer’s disease? The answer is no. Worldwide it is estimated that about 16 million people have Alzheimer’s disease, including 4.5 million Americans. Telling lies is not a good practice in professional areas, but as a caretaker for someone with Alzheimer’s, there will come a point, perhaps daily, even several times an hour, when it is healthier to fib than to tell the truth. In fact, those who can fabricate and fictionalize reality have a higher chance of staying connected to the person suffering from dementia.
Is this duplicity? Not at all. Sometimes to protect the person with Alzheimer’s from intense anxiety or emotional breakdown, you must falsify reality to provide a safer environment. Here are some common examples of statements and requests where replying in a fib is more therapeutic than harmful.
I don’t want to go [blank]. Getting someone with Alzheimer’s to do something they don’t want to do can be difficult. One way to solve this is to incorporate the activity into something they enjoy. For example, one friend gets her mother and aunt to their dreaded doctor appointments without a battle by suggesting they go for an ice cream cone. One they are dressed and in the car, she “remembers” she needs to stop by the doctor’s on the way to get ice cream.
I want to drive. One of the most common situations caregivers face is when the person with Alzheimer’s disease thinks they need to drive somewhere, not realizing they no longer can drive. You can say the car is being service and will be picked up later, or that a relative is borrowing the car. With advanced Alzheimer’s you can say this as many times without the person remembering.
This isn’t my home. A challenge caregivers may face daily is when the Alzheimer’s patient does not recognize their house as being the home they live in. Instead of arguing, sometimes it’s easier to say, “We’re visiting so and so today” or “Your house is being painted so we’re staying here until the paint dries.” Often the inability to recognize the home is due to transitioning from one place to another. Once settled, it’s possible the person will feel comfortable.
Why doesn’t [blank] come see me anymore? This is one instance in which it can be too uncomfortable lie. When the person with Alzheimer’s asks where their deceased spouse or loved one is, there’s a few recommended options including therapeutic fibbing, redirection, and validation. A therapeutic fib might be saying the spouse is on a trip and will be back soon. Some people don’t like to fib in regard to death so there are other options. Redirection would be to change the subject to something more neutral. Validation would be acknowledging the unspoken loss with something like “You must really miss your husband.”
A good therapeutic fib is a version of the truth that could be true on any given day. Remember, practice makes perfect.



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