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Dementia Caregivers Dilemma: Am I Lying to My Senior?

Aug 31, 2017 by Larry Morgan

Many caregivers have difficulty communicating with their client or loved one with dementia. One of the best pieces of advice is to tell them what they want to hear – but many caregivers question this.

For example, say your dad has passed away, and your mom with dementia keeps asking when he will be home – every five minutes. My response to her would be, “He just called and said he would be back in a few hours.”

Many caregivers are appalled by my answer. Isn’t that lying to them? Technically, perhaps it is, but this method of communication is actually really important. Here’s why:

You get to step into their “world” for a moment.

Can you imagine what it would be like to be confused and forgetful to the point of forgetting your significant other has passed away? This kind of communication lets you step into their shoes and realize that their cognitive capacity is very different from yours. You’re able to give them a concrete answer to something that’s much more complex.

It makes them feel better about the situation.

What would happen if I had just told your mom, “Oh I’m sorry, but your husband passed away four years ago”? That would only make her upset and probably frustrated, because this is new information to her now. She still thinks her husband is alive, and I just broke the news to her that he died. Granted, she will forget what was said soon, but it will still leave her in a depressed mood.

The repetitive nature of the question won’t stop regardless of the answer.

Now, imagine telling your mother your father had passed away four years ago, several times a day, and seeing that same sad and angry response from her every time.

Now, think about “lying” to her, as I would do. After she hears he will be back in a few hours, she’ll be in a better mood and stop asking for the moment – then if she asks again later, you can give the same answer and have the same positive (or at least nonchalant) response. Isn’t that much better than telling her the hard truth?

This isn’t about you.

At the end of the day, how you feel about things regarding your senior with dementia should not matter, so long as they are happy and healthy. If communicating in this way makes you uncomfortable but makes them much more positive than otherwise, it is something you should do for them.

While it is true there are many things you need to be honest with to your client or loved one with dementia, a few “white lies” here and there may save a lot of heartache and even more confusion.

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