Telling Untruths to Those with Memory Loss

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Today we’re going to be discussing that age-old question of whether or not it’s okay to share an untruth with someone who’s suffering from memory loss.

Welcome to The Senior Circle, where we hope to inspire and help others by providing valuable, relevant information related to caring for an elderly loved one. Hi, my name is Dawn Neely and I’ll be your host. Thank you for joining us.

Hi, everyone. So listen, if you’ve ever had to deal with somebody who has dementia, memory loss symptoms, things of that nature, you’ve dealt with the questions, the repeated questions that are consistently asked, and some of those questions are hard ones. So we find ourselves sometimes asking, is it okay to lie to my loved one who has dementia or the person that I’m caring for?

Quite frankly, I think there are two schools of thought on this. You’ve got your folks that believe that truth is absolutely necessary in all circumstances, and believe me, I firmly believe in truth and I firmly believe that we are even required by who I consider my bigger power to tell the truth. I do believe, however, that there are situations that we do need to be sensitive and creative in regards to what we say to someone who is suffering from dementia.

I think there’s a lot of truth in meeting someone where they’re at and meeting them in their reality. In a person’s mind who has dementia, there are things that cause anxiety. There are things that cause fear. So when we’re asked questions that are very difficult to answer, for example, if your widowed mother continually asks about her husband, if you were to answer every time that question was asked, “Dad has passed away,” it truly brings a situation to your mom that she’s experiencing the grief of his death each time you say that.

So I really do believe that there’s a moment that we have to, we have to consider the reality of the dementia patient, the consequence of the truth in certain circumstances, and what we can do to creatively move our dementia patient onto another reality. For example, redirecting is very important. So anytime there’s a difficult question that has a difficult answer, it’s usually better to look for a way to redirect and not necessarily have to answer.

In order to do that, we kind of have to understand why the question’s being asked. Is our loved one fearful? Is our loved one anxious? Do they believe they should be somewhere that they don’t necessarily have to be? Are they thinking about needing to go home? Because a lot of times, with a redirecting statement, we can ease that fear, ease that anxiety without necessarily having to tell a lie. But I do believe that there are circumstances in which we have to weigh the consequence of the truth to our loved one or the person that we’re caring for and determine whether or not we want to consistently give that truth to that person.

I believe that there are times that we do need to creatively come up with answers that might not be 100% true, but will bring peace and comfort to a loved one. I’ve spoken to many, many physicians. I’ve spoken to, in fact, a geriatric specialist here in the Detroit area who firmly believes that we have to operate in the reality of our seniors that experience memory loss. And the moment we start adding to their anxiety, we’re really not helping them.

So just food for thought, something to keep in mind. I encourage you to, yes, always tell the truth, but I also encourage you to be creative and look for ways to redirect. It’s always easier to see them respond with a joyful or an appeased reaction than an anxiety-riddled one. So that’s my thought for today. And if you are struggling with anyone who has memory loss, dementia, and you have questions, there are a lot of resources out there. The Alzheimer’s Association is fantastic, and if we can do anything, please don’t hesitate to let us know. Thank you and have a great day.

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