While very young, we learn the tale of George Washington’s misadventure with the cherry tree and his bold admittance to his parents, “I cannot tell a lie; I chopped down the cherry tree!” Truthfulness is lodged within our character, and even telling a tiny white lie can wrack us with guilt. But could it actually be advantageous to lying to someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease?
In accordance with the Alzheimer’s Association, “loving deception” or lying to someone with dementia, entails allowing someone with dementia to maintain uncorrected misconceptions in order to reduce anxiety and agitation. For example, say your father with Alzheimer’s repeatedly asks for his parents. The reality is, his parents both died several years ago; but protecting him from re-experiencing the raw grief of learning this truth again and again provides a measure of comfort. An appropriate response may be, “They are not here at this time, but they’re out together enjoying the day.”
There is little or no benefit to correcting persons with dementia. This is all about the power of joining the world of the person with Alzheimer’s.
However, it is important to restrict the white lies to instances where the senior would be upset and gain no benefit from being told the simple truth, particularly when questions about the problem are repeatedly being asked. There’s a time and place for truthfulness in Alzheimer’s disease, such as when a loved one has just passed on, and the person deserves the chance to work through initial grief.
These additional tactics will help restore calm, in lieu of lying:
- Shift topics to something more fun or soothing.
- Attempt to discern the emotion being conveyed and help manage that.
- Try listening to the person with empathy and acknowledge the feelings being experienced.