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Will Telling White Lies to Dementia Patients Negatively Affect Them?

by Carole Larkin, Alzheimer's & Dementia Expert
November 19, 2014

Question: In caregiving, is there an increased amount of concealing things/telling “little white lies” patients to keep from upsetting them? Do you have any examples?

Answer: I suppose they could be called “lies”, but to me, they are told because the person telling the person with dementia loves that person and doesn’t want them to be hurt. We can’t change the bad things that happen to people, but we can soften the blow to people who love them and would get upset, anxious, cry and grieve every time they were told of the bad event. I call that “compassion”, not “lies”.

The classic example is of course the person with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia asking where a spouse or sibling or child is, and in fact the person has died (sometimes many years ago). Telling them the “truth”, i.e. the person is dead could cause the person with dementia immediate grief, as if their loved one had died that second. Deeper into the diseases (say early mid-stage) when the person cannot record and keep new information, they may ask twenty times a day, “where is {so and so}”; how cruel would it be to tell them twenty times that {so and so} is dead, so that they grieve twenty times a day? Now it’s a different story if they didn’t like the person who is dead. You see? It’s all about sparing someone who is very vulnerable feelings that hurt.  

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Carole Larkin MA, CMC, CAEd, QDCS, EICS is a geriatric care manager who specializes in helping families with Alzheimer’s and related dementias issues. She also trains caregivers in home care companies, assisted livings, memory care communities, and nursing homes in dementia specific techniques for best care of dementia sufferers. Her company, ThirdAge Services LLC, is located in Dallas, TX.

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