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How Little White Lies Can Be Beneficial for Dementia Patients

It is human nature to correct and try to help someone who might be confused. However, with a person caring for someone living with dementia, it can actually be more beneficial to avoid corrections and even tell harmless fibs.

“Sometimes the factual truth creates more havoc for the person with dementia,” said M. Barbara Betts Swartz, Program Director for the Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org). “The world is relentlessly confusing and increasingly frightening. If the person with dementia feels more at peace with the fib then with the truth, try the fib.”

The key is to know when to be honest and when to lie.

“This practice is not recommended for use with persons in the early stages of the disease who are not yet experiencing the impact of advanced dementia and need specific information to make informed decisions about their condition, future planning, and so on,” Betts Swartz said.

While little white lies can be helpful for someone in need of dementia care or Alzheimer’s care, Betts Swartz says you should not be ridiculous.

“If a person with dementia insists that there's a stranger in the bathroom, and the caregiver tells an outrageous lie like, ‘Yes, that's your favorite entertainer, Wayne Newton, and he's come to sing for you!’ there is a good chance that the person with dementia might be skeptical and perhaps become distrustful,” she said. “This lie is much different from a therapeutic lie such as, ‘I just checked the bathroom and he must have left, because there's no one there now. I locked our doors so we’re safe.’”

She says professional and family caregivers should not feel guilty about these deceptions.

“Sometimes, telling the truth is not a measure of love and respect for a person with memory loss,” Betts Swartz said. “Caregivers find themselves in the uncomfortable situation of knowing the literal truth will only serve to make their person with dementia sad, afraid, angry, agitated, aggressive or withdrawn. When an 80-year-old woman with dementia asks, ‘When will my mother be here?’ and that mother has been long deceased, caregivers feel like they’re crossing an emotional minefield. Creative caregivers might validate the emotions expressed by that question, and ask the person with dementia tell a story about that mother or say, ‘It sounds like you miss your mother.’”

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