Unfortunately I still see it happen all the time…
A family member comes in to see their loved one, who is requesting to go ‘home.’
The family member will respond bluntly, having already gone over this countless times.
“Mom, you live HERE now, you can’t go home. You sold your house years ago after dad died, remember?!”
Hoping that their parent will perhaps ‘snap out of it.’
I cringe lightly from a few feet away, my heart aching for the resident.
The visitor, of course, has no ill intentions.
I believe they are hopeful that this ‘dose of the truth’ will help their loved one fight back against the dementia.
The truth is, however, that within their mind, the resident is living in a different reality now, and that reality may shift and change from day to day.
But whatever their reality is at that particular time…IT JUST IS.
We need to accept that for the sake of the resident.
The Dementia will be more convincing than the visitor, every time.
That resident DOES still live in their home, their spouse IS still alive, and they DO NOT live ‘here.’
They don’t quite remember how or why they came here, but for some reason they are being refused their right to leave.
Can you just imagine at this very moment in your life, suddenly finding yourself in a strange building where the people are friendly and always willing to help, until you ask them where the exit is.
Your loved one comes to visit you, and you are so relieved! You tell them that you are ready to leave and go home finally. You remind them that your spouse is going to be wondering where you are.
You are sure that they will be the ones to help you find the way out. But your family member then bluntly tells you that your spouse is dead, your house was sold, and you are simply not allowed to leave this place.
Imagine how terrifying that would be.
Sometimes ‘lying’ is the kindest option when you are trying to comfort someone who is living with dementia.
Or perhaps a better description than “lying” would be that you are providing the resident with a response that does not challenge their current reality, but rather assists them to make sense of it.
The goal is to help ‘resolve’ the issue that is causing the anxiety, and redirect the resident.
A resident is visibly distressed, claiming that they need to find the exit immediately, as they are late to pick their young children up from school.
You should never challenge them by saying: “Your children are grown adults with children of their own now. They don’t need to be picked up from the bus.”
Imagine how dismissive that would sound if someone said that to you in that actual situation. If you truly believed your young children were waiting by themselves for you to pick them up. It would be infuriating to have your emergency be dismissed so casually.
You could instead, try saying something that might make sense to the resident at that time.
“Jim (husband) called a few minutes ago, and asked me to pass on the message that he was running errands near the school, so he went ahead and picked the kids up.”
The second version may be completely fabricated, but if you were in the residents shoes, which response would be easier for you to accept?
Which response would bring you more comfort?
Likely the second one.
However, being concerned that making up a story would be disrespectful to a loved one, is understandable.
Wanting to reinforce the ‘truth,’ as a way of being helpful to the resident in retrieving their memory, because, perhaps it feels more respectful to pretend as though the disease hasn’t affected them, than to ‘play along,’ accepting that it has.
However, the disease HAS affected the resident, unfortunately, and by challenging their current reality, it will only leave them feeling more confused, isolated, and distressed.
So, sometimes a simple ‘white lie’ in dementia care, can provide a person who was in incredible distress, with a complete sense of comfort, validation, support, and reassurance.
And I can’t think of any reason that I wouldn’t want a loved one to have those positive feelings, over the alternative.
I’ll end with this…
If someone can’t bring themselves to follow the residents lead, and respond with a ‘lie’ when a person with dementia is in distress, It’s ok, and it’s understandable. We are taught from a young age that ‘lies are bad.’
However, in some cases, such as dementia care, a lie may be the only way to bring someone comfort. It comes purely from a place of kindness, and not deceit.
At the very least, a caregiver or family member should refrain from correcting or challenging, under any circumstance, and instead, simply sit or walk with them, offering a listening ear.
It just might make a world of difference…