If you are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s, you have probably wondered “Is Therapeutic Lying for dementia patients” wrong? I am one of five children and I thank my parents for raising me to be honest, sincere, compassionate and always do the right thing. That’s why this particular approach was hard to wrap my head around. It might be for you, too. So let’s unpack it.
Therapeutic Lying is a technique that is recommended by some in the health care industry to alleviate anxiety, confusion and stress on a dementia patient — and honestly, his/her caregiver too. Basically, instead of trying to explain the right answer, you simply agree or go along with what they are thinking.
Let me give you an example. I was the primary caregiver for my mother in her last years. Even with 4 siblings, I was the closest geographically so, by default, the main responsibility fell on me. (To this day, I’d have had it no other way and consider the entire experience a blessing.) I stumbled onto the concept of Therapeutic Lying while researching dementia and coping mechanisms that might help my mother – and quite frankly me in providing her care.
When I first told my sister about this technique, she was horrified. “How can I outright LIE to mom? That just feels wrong!” However, about a week later she had a complete change of heart. We had flown mom down to Texas to visit with my sister and her kids for a while. For two reasons — one, to give me a break. And two, to let “Nana” visit with her Texas grandkids. Just a day into the visit, my sister calls and says “She’s wanting to move down here! She’s literally wanting to find a realtor and buy a house.” (Keep in mind, we had already moved mom out of her house because of her inability to live alone.) So I said “Just go along with it.”
Knowing that mom no longer had the comfort level or cognitive ability to actually execute this idea, there was no harm in letting her talk and imagine doing something like that. So my sister just listened and said things like “That sounds like a great idea. I’ll talk to a couple of friends I have that are realtors. Now how about we go outside for a walk.” Using this technique in this scenario accomplished two really important things. First, it helped mom feel heard and validated. Secondly, it allowed mom to put that idea to rest for a time being and enjoy the purpose for which she was there – my sister and her grandchildren. And no, it doesn’t remove that topic forever, but it does allow a moment. And life with dementia is about those moments. But had my sister dug her heels in, braced herself for a debate or tried to respectfully tip toe around why that would not be possible, it would have made mom even more confused, frustrated and agitated…as well as my sister.
Do you see the application? This example could really be called “Therapeutic Agreeing”. That’s a bit easier to swallow, don’t you think?
Another, more literal, example of Therapeutic Lying was when we knew she needed to stop driving. Now, before I tell you this story, just know that our Mom was a very strong-willed lady. She loved her independence and did not like being seen as an “old person” and if you wanted to set her off, just tell her what she can and cannot do.
To keep her from driving, we decided her car needed to “go to the shop” for a repair. I happily volunteered to take her to any appointments and run any errands. Side perk— we got to spend a lot of valuable time together. She would occasionally ask about her car and we would remind her it was in the shop getting repaired. Yes, this was an outright lie. But our mother was better for it. Eventually, she stopped asking about the car and was completely comfortable with others accompanying her.
Every dementia patient is different. Every caregiver is different. Is Therapeutic Lying for dementia patients wrong? In my experience, no. If fact, I see it as an act of compassion and love. Telling the truth in these situations would cause unnecessary hurt. Our guideline is that if it is for their benefit, it’s not wrong.
Another method typically used alongside, or in lieu of, Therapeutic Lying for dementia patients is Distraction. Distracting your loved one’s attention to something else is an easy way to steer their mind onto something else without upsetting them or causing any guilt feelings.
The caregivers at The Nursing Team are trained in dementia care and are adept at providing compassionate and loving care to our clients. These methods are used when and where appropriate to benefit the patient’s quality of life.
At the end of the day, when you are caring for a loved one with dementia, you just want them to be happy, content, safe and enjoy life. Remember, they are living in a different world and sometimes it’s a gift to just meet them where they are, instead of expecting them to come back to where your are.
The Nursing Team Owner and Home Care Advocate