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“Lie to my mom?”

Mom
taught you to always tell the truth. But in the context of caring for someone
with memory loss (dementia), honesty may not always be the best policy. There
may be times when the kindest strategy—the one that reduces your loved one’s
anxiety or fear—is to omit the truth or bend it a little. This is called
“therapeutic fibbing.”

When your loved
one is distressed

  • Try distraction first. Put your
    relative’s forgetfulness to work for you by focusing his or her attention on
    something else. For instance, if your dad is persistently asking to see his
    mother, don’t bother explaining that she died decades ago. Instead, validate
    his emotions and meet him in his memories. “You want to see your mother.
    Tell me about your mother.” Shortly, change the subject, even move to a
    different room. Then lead his attention to a favorite activity.
  • Bend the truth. If distraction
    doesn’t engage his attention, you might say, “Your mother is visiting her
    sister and will come see you tomorrow.” Or, if he wants to drive to the
    store, rather than reminding him that he can’t drive and the car was sold, say,
    “The car is in the shop, Dad. It should be back tomorrow.”
  • Omit the truth. If mom gets
    fretful about going to the doctor, consider: Does she need to know that that’s
    where she’s going? Perhaps instead, go to lunch and then “happen” to
    stop by the doctor’s on the way back. Was anything—other than her anxiety—lost
    in her not knowing ahead of time?

Therapeutic
fibbing may not immediately appeal to you. Simply know it is a proven technique
for relieving distress and bringing a confused loved one back to a state of
tranquility. The underlying principle is that your relative benefits more from
feeling safe and calm than from knowing “the truth.”

Not sure about therapeutic fibbing?
We at Debra Levy Eldercare Associates understand. As the Metro DC experts in family caregiving, we know that therapeutic fibbing is often difficult for family members. Give us a call at 301-593-5285. There are many ways to ease distress in a person with dementia. We can help. Let’s start the conversation.