As a dementia (or Alzheimers) caregiver, lying will probably become a part of your day to day life! A little lie, told in love is a great idea most times. All my best tips and ideas for dealing with lying to your loved one.
I KNOW, maybe like me you are a super honest to a fault person so lying seems really heinous on a base level. Or you have little children around, like me, who are shocked to hear lie after lie come out of Mommy's mouth.
Well if you are a dementia caretaker, you may have to soften that stance a little to make everything better!
please note :: I often recommend resources, some I receive an affiliate commission for at no additional cost to you, these all help to keep this site free for you!
Our Dementia Lying Story
Our Mom is has alcohol related dementia and moved in with us about 6 months ago. At first we knew she had some memory problems (remembering to eat was our biggest one), but we had no idea how fast things were going to go downhill.
Within a few weeks she had collapsed again, had a seizure and was in the hospital and nursing home for 3 weeks. When she came back, the memory problems had increased a staggering amount.
Functionally she thought it was about 8 years ago when she lived with us in our basement in Colorado.
At first we tried the old “orienting” her to where she is now, “Mom it is Florida”, “Mom you don't live in the basement anymore” and each time she was reminded how confused she was and got sad.
So I started going along and just gently helping her. But my son (who is 11) was SHOCKED… we were lying to Grandma… sigh.
We had told him never to lie, and now he was seeing his mother lie on the regular!
So why lie?
It hurts Mom to be reminded again and again that she forgets things so we have decided as a family to just live in her reality. My kids (11 and 14) had a problem with Mommy lying at first, but now they see that it is a kindness.
What Is Lying Dementia or Alzheimers Called?
There are a lot of fancy pants terms for lying to your loved one…
- Therapeutic Lying
- Compassionate Deception
- Compassionate Lying
- Therapeutic Fibbing
I have heard so many and sometimes I think we just want a “real” word so we can get the deception figured out in our head as something clinical and warranted.
Lying With A Purpose
Before we get into some lying tips (never thought that I would say that out loud before caregiving!) let's talk about lying a wee bit.
Lying helps them to calm down and become less anxious. Because you are not calling out every time they make a mistake they are not reminded they are wrong.
Lying helps decrease frustration. Imagine if every time you opened your mouth someone corrected you instead of just talking to you. That would be awful!
Lying help them to be less scared. If everything around you seemed to be crazy weird, fear starts to creep in. Lying to your loved one can reduce the fear they feel.
Generally you aren't feeding into the lies, you are simply living in their reality.
For example, say your Mom asks you how your day at school went and you are a 52 year old who has had her 25th year reunion. You could correct her and say that… or you could just say “great, how was your day?”
You don't have to make up elaborate stories about school, you just need to connect with her. She asked the question to start a conversation, not to be judged or reprimanded because she is confused.
Tips & Ideas For Lying
Whoa, I never aspired to be a lying expert, but here are some different kinds of lies we caretakers tell….
Lying About Safety Issues
Since we went through formalized training for adopting our kids from foster care, we had “safety issues” drilled into our heads.
You should feel majorly okay about lying to your loved one if a safety issue is involved, no exceptions!
In one of the Alzheimers and dementia caregivers groups I belong to there was a big thread about a gentleman who wears his gun on hip and waving it around the house. WHAT?!?!
If you need to take guns away from your loved one you can tell them that they are being cleaned or call in the police to ask them to turn them over. Since this is not my expertise, here is a great article from NPR about Dementia and Guns.
I have learned about stopping dementia loved ones from driving from law enforcement at a conference I attended. The officer said that he has seen dementia patients die in car wrecks, kill other people and travel hundreds of miles away from home.
His recommendation is to have them stop driving, period. Not around the neighborhood, not just to church, but a hard stop.
You can “lose the keys”, work with the DMV or their doctor, disconnect the battery, sell the car and say it is at the shop, do whatever it takes to get them to stop driving.
If your loved one lives alone, this is a big one! I have read a BUNCH of stories about loved ones who have burned food, set kitchens on fire and practically burned their houses down.
A good way to fix this problem is to disconnect the stove and say it is broken!
Okay, now that we have some of the scary safety issues out of the way, let's talk about having compassion for your loved one.
Dead Family Members
My Mom's husband and sisters are all dead. Sometimes she talks about them as if they are alive… and we play along! If she says she is going to call Betty sometime, we just say “that is a great idea, but wait because she is out of town right now.”
Reminding her constantly that someone she loves is gone is not a great way to spend a day because our Mom tends to cycle through thoughts over and over again, repeating the same questions a lot.
Imagine the sorrow of learning your sister is dead day after day or hour after hour.
Going to School, Home or Work
Your loved one may talk about their job, old friends, going to school or any number of other things that are in the past.
A good lie for these is that it is their day off, there is a holiday, or the house is being worked on. You can also say you called in already and talked to someone, that someone called while they were asleep or you got an email or text notification.
Describing in painstaking detail why they are wrong, or why they don't work anymore or why they are home already doesn't accomplish anything.
Distract them from the topic and move on to something else that they like to talk about!
I made up my own term for lying that helps me, functional lying!
This is where I have something that needs to be accomplished, like getting Mom to take a shower, and I lie.
I will say that she has a doctors appointment, we are going to lunch or church, family is coming over, or anything else that will help us accomplish the goal of getting her clean!
I KNOW, this one seems the worst, because it is a deliberate deception, but it is done out of genuine caring for her wellbeing. If she is dirty or spreads germs around her room and bathroom, she could get sick and wind up in the hospital. No good.
Lying About Her Goals and Dreams
This last one makes me happier than any of the other ones! This is where we go along with Mom when she talks about what she wants to do in the future.
She is planning cruise, buying swimsuit to go swimming in our pool and setting up a kitchen in her bedroom to cook all kinds of glorious food for herself.
Now functionally, none of these things are likely to happen, but why tell her that there is no hope for fun in the future.
If your loved one is making castles in the sky, go along… tell her that sounds like fun and you will join her!
Our Mom's world has gotten really small, her bedroom, our living room, a little walk outside and some doctors appointments. If she wants to dream of an Alaskan cruise, have at it!
Messing Up Lying
Okay, reading all of this you might think that I am a master con artist and all my lies work perfectly. Not so much.
I have messed up lying… when Mom was in the hospital she was looking to buy a grill for her bedroom (A GRILL… FOR HER BEDROOM!) and I told her that she couldn't have it.
Sorry to say she was in the nursing home, scared to death, confused and worried and I had a mini argument about a grill. Why not let the woman think about a grill if she wants? Even if she orders it, we can send it right back!
I also sometimes am busy and miss cues about things that I should shine her on for, but I try and that is all you can do to too!
Additional Lying To Dementia Resources
Here are some additional resources I found while I was researching lying!
- Caregivers grapple with idea of lying to dementia patients
- The Comforting Fictions of Dementia Care
- Why and How to Avoid Therapeutic Lying to People with Memory Loss