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Handling Dementia Symptoms with Therapeutic Fibbing and Diversion

    When a person with dementia is experiencing a delusion, hallucination, or catastrophic reaction, or cannot comprehend the reality of a situation, a caregiver may use therapeutic fibbing and diversion to avoid causing further undue anxiety.

    Dementia often blurs the line between perception and reality, causing concern, stress and frustration. If dad’s driver’s license has been taken away, he may have many emotionally-charged reactions. He may not understand why, or simply may not accept it. Therefore, when he goes to drive to the store, what are you (the family caregiver) to do?

    You can help by reassuring him or by redirecting his focus — for instance, telling him you were on the way to the store, so offering for the two of you to go together, or telling him you’ll go to the store after lunch. This tactic is referred to as diversion.

    Another tactic used in dementia care is therapeutic fibbing. Often, the best way to help a person experiencing anxiety is to not argue with their reality — and even meet them there, far from your own reality. When dad wants to drive to the store, you may tell dad that his car is in the shop, so he can go shopping once it’s finished. Trying to argue a person with dementia’s reality is like holding a book in your hand and insisting it’s an apple; it will only frighten and confuse your loved one more.

    Most importantly, if your loved one is very upset, it’s better to back off and allow him time to calm down before attempting any other activity or conversation. Remember: Never scold, correct, argue, or attempt to reason with a person with dementia. These responses are counterproductive and hurt relationships. Have compassion and remember that this certainly isn’t what your dad thought his retirement or golden years would bring.


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