Sometimes the truth hurts
Most of society would agree that telling the truth is part of our moral responsibility to each other, especially to our parents or spouse. However, if you’re caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, sometimes telling the truth can do more harm than good. Painful truths can cause a loved one to feel anxious, frustrated, stressed and angry. Keeping them from getting upset or acting on harmful behaviors sometimes takes priority over absolute honesty.
Years ago, professionals thought it was best to reorient those with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia to bring them back to reality. As most caregivers know, this doesn’t usually work for getting a loved one to cooperate or understand their surroundings, and it only upsets them more.
Alzheimer’s and dementia expert Carrie Hill, PhD, states that “Alzheimer’s affects the brain in such a way that trying to reason or use logic with the person no longer works.” For instance, if your loved one believes her deceased spouse is out fishing, reminding her of her husband’s death will probably do little more than cause intense grief and anxiety.
“The bottom line is,” Hill explains, “that if a white lie is the only way to make your loved one feel better in a particular situation, and it isn’t hurting anyone, then you’re helping your loved one by entering their world instead of forcing reality upon them.”
It’s important for caregivers to remember that therapeutic fibbing does not involve intentionally deceiving their loved one. Rather, therapeutic fibbing involves bending the truth to meet your family member in his or her current reality, where you can encourage behavior for his or her safety and well-being.
There are some helpful guidelines for caregivers when it comes to therapeutic fibbing:
Change the subject—Rather than agreeing or disagreeing with your loved one, redirect them to a different topic of conversation to distract them from their current train of thought.
Switch it up—Therapeutic fibbing is not a cure-all for every dementia-related behavior. Consider fibbing as a tactic to use in moderation and in combination with other techniques.
Prioritize safety and well-being—Use therapeutic fibbing only when it’s necessary to create safety, enhance quality of life and ensure your loved one’s well-being (fibbing to convince your mother to take her medication is a good use of this technique).
Understand Dementia—Since Alzheimer’s and dementia are degenerative diseases that destroy the brain and the ability to process and store memories, people in the later stages are cognitively incapable of recognizing reality. Forcing it upon them may only lead to greater confusion, agitation or discomfort.
Let it be—If your loved one is peaceful and in no immediate danger, there’s no harm in letting them stay in their own reality, no matter how disconnected they may be from the present.
Trust your intuition—When it comes to easing tough moments, do what feels right. You know your loved one best.
Despite the discomfort or guilt you may feel from fibbing to your loved one, it’s important to realize when it may be in their best interest. Ultimately, your role as their caregiver makes you responsible for their ongoing well-being and sense of safety. If telling a harmless fib protects them from an unnecessary, upsetting situation, you’re really providing the best care for them at the time.
For more information on aging related issues contact Elderbridge Agency on Aging at www.elderbridge.org, or by calling 800-243-0678. You may also contact LifeLong Links at www.lifelonglinks.org, or by calling 866-468-7887.