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Stretching the Truth When You Care for Someone with Alzheimer’s

When you care for a senior loved one who lives with Alzheimer’s disease, finding ways to cope with their memory loss and to get them to cooperate with daily tasks can sometimes mean being a little less than truthful with them. For adult children and caregivers, there is often guilt involved with doing so. Some Alzheimer’s experts refer to this as “therapeutic white lies” or “therapeutic fibs” because the intention behind them is good.

Over the years dementia experts have changed their opinion on what the best approach to use is when trying to redirect or gain cooperation from someone living with Alzheimer’s disease. It used to be common to try to “reorient” people to reality by explaining a memory that had been lost over and over again. Fortunately, newer thinking encourages caregivers to use validation instead. That means letting them know you believe them and acknowledging what they may be feeling. It is kinder and gentler than continuing to make them relive a painful piece of their past.

When Little White Lies are Kinder to Tell than the Truth

Those living with memory loss also lose the ability to reason as the disease progresses. This can make it difficult to gain their cooperation with activities of daily living. For example, if your father lives with you now but insists he needs to return “home” to check on his tomato plants, don’t try to explain to him again that he no longer has his own house. Instead, try telling him you know his tomatoes are important to him and that you can stop by to do that for him when you pick the kids up from soccer. It will likely re-direct his attention. If it doesn’t, try agreeing to take him the following day when you will be out running errands together.

Another scenario that often leaves adult children unsure of how to proceed is what to do and say if a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease repeatedly asks when a deceased spouse will be coming home. Family caregivers often feel guilty for not explaining the loved one passed away. They know putting their senior loved one through that pain again and again is cruel, but adult children still feel guilty saying the deceased loved one with actually be there “later.” In most scenarios, it is the kindest thing to do.

You can learn more about validation therapy in Alzheimer’s in this video from noted dementia expert Naomi Fell.

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