When it comes to caring for individuals with dementia, I firmly believe we always should be looking at the “big picture.” A large part of the big picture often can include the necessity to stretch the truth by telling little white lies, therapeutic fibs or whatever you deem necessary to keep their feathers from ruffling.
However, be very careful and selective as to when to take this course of action. The false information you just told them may not evaporate as quickly as you thought it would. Their short-term memories may be working extra innings, fighting to remember things that are extremely dear to them.
They suddenly may become upset that their daughter isn’t home. “She should have been home from school hours ago!” Meanwhile, the reality is that she’s married with kids of her own and living in another state. As a caregiver, you must defuse the situation. For instance, you can gently say, “Oh, she’s gone for the day. She called a while ago to say she’ll be home later this afternoon.” Sometimes this works wonders, but then there are other times that you will find them staring out of the window, worried sick.
There is a time and a place to redirect them by telling well intentioned prevarications, but you always should have a back-up plan in case this backfires.
Several years ago a study was done during which a group of people witnessed a car accident. Half of them received misinformation about the accident. For instance, they falsely were told there was a “yield” sign at the intersection. (In truth, there was a stop sign.) When they were asked to relate what they saw, almost all of those who were given the phony information changed their statement, saying they had seen a yield sign. By the way, these are people who do not have dementia. So you can see how easy it is for a simple lie to become the human memory’s truth.
We should be asking the question: “Is this lie going to help keep our loved ones safe and calm or is it just going to make our lives as caregivers easier?”
There is no question that there is a proper time and place where these therapeutic lies are necessary, especially the further advanced the dementia becomes. I believe that if it keeps them from having increased anxiety or stops their wandering or driving, then it’s a good thing. Otherwise they might just snowball into mass confusion. I would rather see an untruth told than a high dose of medication given.
Remain vigilant at all times; be certain that what they just were told doesn’t cause a domino effect, thus making things worse.
For a decade Gary LeBlanc was the primary caregiver of his father after his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.