Caregiver talking to a woman on a couch

Honoring Who They Were by Honoring Who They Still Are: The Ethics of Fibbing (Part 4 of 4)

In this four part series, we walk you through ways to help honor your loved one throughout all stages of the dementia journey. No matter how advanced the disease may be, there are plenty of opportunities for you to connect with your loved one, show your care and create moments that can be cherished.

We can all agree that telling the truth is the best policy – usually. It’s what we’re taught when we’re very young, after all. Many of us can remember this or that punishment that came from telling a lie to our parents or someone else. However, if your loved one has dementia, sometimes telling the truth can hurt more than it helps.

According to Andrea Campisi, Marketing and Admissions Director of The Reutlinger Community, there are times in a caregiver’s life when it’s better to tell little white lies. Think of your mother who keeps asking when her long-dead spouse is coming home, or your dad who wants the keys to the car even though you took them away years ago. Explaining the reality of the situation will only result in pain, tears, frustration and anger – which will be repeated the next time the situation occurs.

“Your role as a caregiver is to help your loved one have the best quality of life possible while also making your job as stress-free as you are able,” says Andrea. “Approaching these situations with logic and truth can result in negative actions. However, telling little fibs can help keep your loved one calm and happy – so why not go down that route instead?”

When Fibbing Is the Best Policy

This idea of ‘therapeutic fibbing’ – the philosophy of deliberately lying to someone with dementia – is fairly recent in the history of dementia care. It used to be that professionals took the approach that telling the truth would help reorient an individual and allow them to become rooted in reality. However, if you’ve tried this with your loved one before, you know that this approach, while well-meaning, doesn’t usually work.

“As dementia progresses, your senior loved one will lose the ability to use reason and logic, so they aren’t useful tools when you’re trying to explain things to them,” Andrea says. “Instead of trying to bring them into your world – your reality – put yourself in their shoes and respond to their actions and questions as if you were in their world – their reality. What would make the most sense for them, and what would make them feel the most secure, safe and loved at this time?”

When (and When Not) to Use Therapeutic Fibbing

A therapeutic fib is a different beast than setting out to intentionally deceive your loved one. Remember that even though your loved one’s mental abilities are not what they once were, they are still adults who deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. This is where many medical professionals and caregivers choose to delineate the ‘ethics’ of this form of care.

“When you’re deciding whether or not to tell a lie to your loved one, ask yourself if you’re doing this in order to maintain their sense of well-being, or is it to help you avoid a difficult conversation you know you should be having?” Andrea says that if it’s the latter rather than the former, you may be broaching the ethics of fair treatment of your loved one.

Therapeutic fibbing isn’t the answer to every circumstance, but when it’s used appropriately, it is a gentle, kind way to help reduce your loved one’s emotional distress and even stop unwanted behavior. Still, some caregivers may be uncomfortable with telling any lies to their loved one at all. In those instances, there are still techniques you can use to treat your loved one gently without lying to them.

Redirect their attention. Instead of trying to convince your mom that she isn’t going to work today because she’s been retired for years, try and redirect her to a different topic of conversation. Ask her what she’s looking forward to that day, or suggest taking a walk around the block before you do anything else. This can help remove your loved one from their current train of thought and bring them into a different space.

Validate what they’re feeling. The emotions and feelings your loved one is having are very real to them, even if they’re rooted in delusions or hallucinations. If your dad is afraid to go outside because he’s worried about being kidnapped, calmly empathize with him and reassure him that he’s safe and that you’ll make sure nothing will happen while he’s outside.

Understand what stage of dementia your loved one is in and adapt your tactics appropriately. Someone in early or mid-stage dementia may be able to accept some forms of reason and logic, while those in later stages truly are living in their own reality. Your tactics may change daily as your loved one moves through their own individual dementia journey.

Let it go. Does it really matter if your father thinks he’s on a train headed to some foreign destination instead of sitting in your living room? If your loved one is happy, calm and not in danger, there’s no reason to take them out of their reality. Let them be and instead hop on that train ride with them – even if it’s all imaginary, you may be able to have a meaningful, fun time together!

Trust your gut. Listen to your instincts and act accordingly. Do what feels right in the situation. After all, you know your loved one best, and acting on intuition will be more successful than you may expect.

“While it’s common to feel guilty or uncomfortable about lying to your loved one, it’s important to remember when doing so may be in their – and your – best interest,” says Andrea. “Ultimately, your job is to care for their safety and well-being, and if telling a little white lie can do that, you’re doing what it takes to provide the best care as possible at that time.”

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Premier Senior Living, Dedicated Care

Offering Assisted Living, Enhanced Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation, The Reutlinger Community provides a continuum of care that allows seniors to live a life-enhancing and stimulating environment. Located in Danville, California, The Reutlinger Community’s newly renovated, 110,000 square foot community combines the comfort and familiarity of home with seasoned senior care and skilled nursing specialists to suit any seniors needs, allowing them to live the life they choose with freedom and security.

Because we specialize in a continuum of care, our residents never need to worry about leaving the community they call home or wonder what will happen when they need some more care. Residents and families alike can have peace of mind knowing that there are full-time licensed nurses available, along with activity coordinators, social workers, caregivers, a concierge and Rabbi who focus solely on helping each resident thrive. Even better, our services and amenities are equal to those of a state-of-the-art resort. This is the lifestyle and care that your loved one deserves.

At The Reutlinger Community, seniors have numerous opportunities to engage in award-winning programs that are designed to engage the mind, renew the spirit and provide opportunities to meet new people and learn something new. Whether residents are enjoying our art program and museum, listening to a lecture or educational program or attending spiritual programming and our wide range of activities, there’s something for each resident to love. Participate as much or as little as you like, the choice is all yours.

For more information or to schedule a personal tour, contact us today.