Should you lie to someone with Alzheimer’s dementia?
Honesty is NOT always the ‘best policy’ if you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s / dementia.
I learned that lesson as caregiver for my Mom who passed away a few years ago. Though I knew the lie was inevitable, I still struggled with the idea of lying to my own mother. I think we have ‘truth telling,’ and honesty ingrained if we were raised by kind, loving and honest parents.
Since honesty isn’t always the right thing for someone with dementia, it’s as though we need permission to do what’s best for our parent even if it’s only the little “white lie.”
When a small white-lie is required— it isn’t always the easy thing to do. For their own benefit the person with Alzheimer’s / dementia doesn’t need to know everything. Often times during care-giving, shades of truth are less painful or disruptive to the person who’s coping with a failing memory.
When Mom was in a Group Home during her last years, my brother often took her for lunch and an afternoon at his home. She loved the time away from the group-home and time being spent with her youngest son. As the baby of the family, Mom remembered this son– was her son. My older brother and I weren’t so sure about her memories of us as her children.
On this day, Mom and my brother (Tim) went back to his home for a relaxing afternoon. As usual, their conversation drifted back to the “good old days,” a time when we were young and Mom’s memories fresh.
She had asked me more than once about my dad; who he was, what he looked like, was he a nice man? Much like she’d ask about a stranger. I’d told my brother about our conversations so he wasn’t surprised or alerted when Mom began to ask about Tim’s father and when/how he had passed away.
Dad had been much older than our mother and when confronted with ill health, he took his own life some 20 years earlier. Wanting to be totally honest with Mom and knowing she’d spent 15 years happily married to someone else, My brother told her the truth. “Dad committed suicide.”
Mom immediately collapsed on the floor. My brother lifted her up and tried to console her but she’d hear none of it. She was hysterical and crying and wailing and began to run from room to room sobbing in distress…”No, no, no..”
My brother was finally able to get Mom into his car and headed straight back to the Group Home, thinking surely they would know what to do to calm her. He was feeling distraught and guilty for having told her the truth.
In the end, no action was needed as Mom had totally forgotten the incident before they arrived back at the “Group Home.”
Yet, my brother recounts this story today with grief and sorrow because he told her the truth.
Plainly, the truth is not always best if someone has Alzheimer’s or dementia