Meredith’s 84-year-old mother, Bev, had dementia.
She sometimes forgot the names of family members and what season it was. As Bev’s primary caregiver, Meredith got used to helping her mother through these kinds of memory slips. She would gently remind her mother of the forgotten information without making a big deal of it. But, when Bev one day asked Meredith where her husband, Meredith’s father, was, Meredith wasn’t sure what to do. Her father had died five years ago. She knew to tell Bev this would upset her terribly as she was clearly living in a reality where her husband was still alive. However, Meredith didn’t feel good about lying to her mother, either.
Meredith’s dilemma is one that many caregivers to seniors with dementia face.
The damage to the brain caused by dementia places the older adult in a reality that is unlike our own. They may live in the past, as Bev did, believing they need to follow old routines, like picking children up from school or waiting for a spouse who has passed away to return home. Or, they may even believe they are children and their own parents are waiting for them. It’s hard to know what to do when these situations occur, but experts say that it is perfectly okay to tell a “therapeutic lie.”
A therapeutic lie might also be called a white lie. It’s something caregivers tell the older adult to protect them from emotional upset or harm or to get them to do something necessary, like taking medicine. In Meredith’s case, the therapeutic lie might be to tell her mom that her dad had gone running an errand and would be back later, then distract Bev with an activity until she forgot about her spouse. In the case of needing to get a relative to take medication, you might make believe you’re taking medicine with them by eating some small candies that resemble pills.
Experts say that telling a therapeutic lie is acceptable in cases where the lie is the older adult’s best interest.
Because dementia can cause a person to have the same conversation over and over, reminding your parent every time the subject comes up that a loved one has died could be very painful for them. There’s no sense in inflicting that kind of emotional pain.
If lying makes you uncomfortable as a caregiver, try a different approach first. You might first affirm the feeling that is causing the question. In Bev’s case, she might be feeling lonely. Meredith could try reassuring her mom that she is not alone.
Distraction may also work. Meredith might attempt to distract her mother by asking her for help with a simple task, like setting the table or inviting her to have a cup of tea. In the end, though, if affirmation and distraction don’t work, don’t feel guilty about lying. Remember that your goal as a caregiver is to help your parent to live as comfortably and happily as they can. By telling a white lie, you’ve protected them from feeling sad or get them to do something that will help them stay healthy.
If you or an aging loved one are considering hiring professional Homecare in Hoover, AL, call and talk to the staff at Lipford Home Care (205) 623-5700.