If you are caring for a person living with memory loss, one of the most important lessons you need to learn is to never argue with them. First and foremost, you will never win the argument! Secondly, you’re only going to end up tormenting the both of you. Just go with the flow. Sadly, even when our loved ones are blabbering, making absolutely no sense at all, we are better off just agreeing with them.
For example, if you wake up one day and suddenly find that you are now called "Bob", then just become Bob! Telling them that they are mistaken will only send them sinking deeper into their confusion, creating a heavy bout of anxiety. As a caregiver, this is precisely what you are trying to avoid.
While caring for my father who was living with Alzheimer’s disease, I experienced many evenings when he would say to me, "It’s starting to get dark outside. If I don’t get home soon, my mother is going to start worrying about me." Instead of telling him that he was a man in his eighties and his mother passed away some twenty years ago, I would calmly tell him, "I just talked to your mother on the telephone a little while ago. She knows you’re spending the night here with me. Everything is going to be okay." Nine out of ten times by reassuring him he’s okay, the following day, he wouldn’t even remember having been worried in the first place.
Many describe this as telling little white lies, fiblets, or therapeutic lies. Call them what you want, but please use caution.
Nobody likes to be lied to. People are still . . . people. So, before throwing out these false statements, you need to ask yourself a sincere question. “Is the lie for your benefit or theirs?” Because they need to be in theirs. Make sure these white lies are being used for their own safety and well-being. Please don’t fall into the habit of using these fibs for your own convenience, or it may come back to haunt you.
Keeping a loved one’s anxiety under control is vital for a person who has Alzheimer’s or any other kind of dementia-related disease. So, if you must bend the truth a little by telling a therapeutic fib, so be it. Examples where your little white lie may be appropriate are: if it helps them take their medication, stops them from wandering, or keeps them safe and calm. Use them cautiously and consider it to be an act of love.
Gary Joseph LeBlanc
Dementia Spotlight Foundation