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Therapeutic Fibbing

Posted On 07/24/2012
Q:

There is a new approach to working with Alzheimer's patients, though the approach may even seem a little unorthodox it is very effective and builds relationship.

A:

“Don’t you ever lie to your mother!”… (Well, maybe sometimes.)

“I have to admit "lying" to my mom at first was hard and I had to find creative ways to get around the truth (without directly doing so)...but when I saw her get up each morning and realize all over again her husband was dead and seeing the pain it caused her...I just started telling her he was on a trip.”

This was a statement I read from a family caregiver whose mother has Alzheimer’s. I was researching information for our care staff about what is called in health care, “therapeutic lying” or “therapeutic fibbing”. The reality is that we all know it is not only wrong to lie, but to lie to our mother is practically as bad as lying to God! Most of us just won’t do it or would feel extremely guilty if we did. However, in the spirit of being on the journey with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s, lying may be the kindest thing you can do for them.

Here is why: in their new reality, they believe things that are out of context with present time and reality. Because of this, they literally re-live painful and occasionally joyful experiences over and over, often many times in a single day. Can you imagine re-learning that your father just passed away 10 times a day?! That is torture. So that’s where “therapeutic fibbing” comes in. No moral person wants to lie. However, our discomfort with lying should be set aside when we see the agony it causes our loved one with Memory Loss when they are forced out of their version of ‘reality’ and back into actual reality.

This type of creative communication challenges us to learn more information about what the person with Memory Loss is experiencing. In some cases it’s also unhealthy and sometimes plain cruel to tell them 100% of the truth, such as, “Mom, your son passed away” over and over again and cause them to re-live those horrible feelings and restart the grieving process, again and again.

Let’s face it. Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and Memory Loss are extremely taxing on caregivers (family or professional) and on the person who has it. The best and most compassionate thing we can do is to become educated so that no matter what the challenge, we can handle it as graciously and lovingly as we know how. After all, one day we may experience the very diseases our elderly face. Personally, I’d rather my kids tell me, “Dad went to the store and will be back soon,” than learn that he died, multiple times a day. I’d rather think he went to get me flowers!

Your friend and advocate in Senior Care,

Traci, RN

 
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