Very early on, we learn the storyline of George Washington’s mishap with the cherry tree and his bold admittance to his parents, “I cannot tell a lie; I chopped down the cherry tree!” Truthfulness is integrated within our character, and in many cases telling a small white lie can wrack us with guilt. But could it actually be beneficial to fib when communicating with a loved one with Alzheimer’s?
As stated by the Alzheimer’s Association, “loving deception” entails allowing someone with dementia to keep uncorrected misconceptions to be able to reduce anxiety and agitation. For example, say your father with Alzheimer’s consistently asks for his parents. The stark reality is, his parents both died decades ago; but keeping him from re-experiencing the raw grief of learning this truth again and again provides a bit of comfort. An appropriate response may be, “They’re not here at the moment, but they’re out together enjoying the afternoon.”
Martin Schreiber, author of “My Two Elaines: Learning, Coping and Surviving as an Alzheimer’s Caregiver”, explains that there is no benefit to correcting persons with dementia. He mentions, “This is all about the importance of joining the world of the person with Alzheimer’s.”
Nevertheless, it is important to limit the white lies to instances when the senior would be upset and gain no benefit from being told the reality, particularly when questions regarding the specific situation are repeatedly being asked. There is a time and place for honesty in Alzheimer’s disease, such as when a loved one has just passed away, and the person deserves the chance to work through initial grief.
These additional tactics will also help restore calm, in lieu of lying:
- Change topics to something more enjoyable or soothing.
- Attempt to discern the emotion being conveyed and help manage that.
- Listen to the person with empathy and acknowledge the feelings being experienced.
With huge numbers of Americans currently coping with Alzheimer’s disease—as many as 5.5 million estimated in 2017 by the Alzheimer’s Association, and a full 32 percent of those ages 85 and older—it is essential for all of us to understand ways to effectively communicate with those impacted by Alzheimer’s while we anxiously await a remedy.
For additional communication recommendations and strategies to apply with your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, contact the dementia care specialists at North River Home Care. We’re also available to provide highly trained, specialized in-home care for persons with Alzheimer’s, along with education for families to better manage the disease. Call us at (781) 352-0939 for assistance.