At an early age, we learn the tale of George Washington’s misadventure with the cherry tree and his bold admittance to his parents, “I cannot tell a lie; I chopped down the cherry tree!” Truthfulness is embedded within our character, and in many cases telling a tiny white lie can wrack us with guilt. But could it actually be good to fib when communicating with a family member with Alzheimer’s?
In accordance with the Alzheimer’s Association, “loving deception” entails allowing someone with dementia to maintain uncorrected misconceptions to be able to reduce anxiety and agitation. For example, say your father with Alzheimer’s consistently asks for his parents. The simple truth is, his parents both passed on many years ago; but protecting him from re-experiencing the raw sadness of learning this truth again and again provides a bit of comfort. A suitable response could be, “They are not here right now, but they’re out together enjoying the afternoon.”
Martin Schreiber, author of “My Two Elaines: Learning, Coping and Surviving as an Alzheimer’s Caregiver”, explains that there’s little or no benefit to correcting loved ones with dementia. He reports, “This is about the importance of joining the world of the individual with Alzheimer’s.”
Nonetheless, it is important to confine the white lies to situations where the senior would be upset and gain no benefit from being told the truth, especially when questions regarding the problem are repeatedly being asked. There is certainly a time and place for honesty in Alzheimer’s disease, such as when a loved one has just passed away, and the person deserves the chance to sort out initial grief.
These additional tactics will help restore calm, in lieu of lying:
- Shift topics to something more fun or calming.
- Make an effort to discern the emotion being expressed and help manage that.
- Pay attention to the individual with empathy and acknowledge the feelings being experienced.
With huge numbers of Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s disease – as many as 5.5 million estimated in 2017 by the Alzheimer’s Association, and a full 32 percent of those ages 85 and older – it is essential for all of us to understand strategies to effectively communicate with those impacted by Alzheimer’s as we anxiously await a cure.
For additional communication advice and methods to try with your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, contact the St. Petersburg dementia care specialists at Generations at Home. We’re available to provide highly trained, specialized in-home caregivers for those with Alzheimer’s, as well as education for families to better manage the condition. Give us a call at 727-940-3414 for assistance.