Cope & Unquote – How White Lies Help Those Affected Deal With Dementia
From an early age, parents teach their children that lying is bad. As parents get older, some grow sick with dementia. This is the moment in life where the roles become reversed and suddenly the children find themselves taking care of the very person who once took care of them. When a physician, nurse, friend or other relative suggests that a caregiver lies to a patient to help them feel better, it seems wrong.
Lying to dementia patients can be a smart idea in many situations. Commonly referred to as ‘therapeutic fibs', telling a white lie to a dementia patient is meant to keep the person happy. Because dementia is such a frustrating disease for the person affected, having to hear negative news or deal with daily frustrations can sometimes be alleviated through simple, harmless lies.
How to handle talking about a deceased friend or family member
One of the most difficult things to handle as a family member with a relative suffering from dementia is death. Dementia impacts the memory and causes the patient to forget about major life events, such as a loss of a friend or close family member. When they ask about this person, being honest can deliver a devastating blow to their mood and psyche.
A white lie may be the best response in this situation. Instead of saying that the person passed away, you can respond by saying that they are with another friend or family member who also passed away. Doing this is not lying, but it is also not being completely honest about why they do not come to visit or send their well wishes. As a family member, you provide a slightly twisted version of reality allowing the dementia patient to understand the situation without delivering news that will result in pain and sadness.
How to handle a dementia patient who does not want to take their medication
For many dementia patients, having to take multiple types of medication throughout the day can be overwhelming and frustrating. They prefer to avoid taking the medication because they do not realize how much they need the medication to function as normally as possible at their phase in dementia.
Instead of arguing and starting a fight that can cause everyone anxiety, some family members opt to lie about the medication. When the medication arrives and it is time to take the pill, family members can say that the pill is a vitamin instead of the medication. This is a harmless way to encourage a dementia patient that they should take the pill and that it will only help, not hurt. Because vitamins have a positive influence on the body and they are taken at all ages, the dementia patient becomes more comfortable and is more accepting of taking the pill.
How to handle a dementia patient who thinks they are someone they are not
Sometimes, past situations and dreams bring up unusual ideas in the mind of a demented patient. For example, for someone who was always social and loved to give back, suddenly believing that he or she is now a volunteer at a day care center may be a very real possibility with dementia.
Instead of telling them that they are not able to volunteer at the day care centre, it may be better to allow them to tell the story with pride, as if they were. Doing this can bring them great joy and harms no one. On the other hand, telling the demented patient that they are confused and that they do not have a job as a volunteer at a day care centre can be hurtful.
Therapeutic fibs are best used when telling the truth would cause mental distress, anguish, anxiety or other negative emotions. These emotions can only hurt the patient and do not help in their symptom relief.
It is important to remember that the demented patient is living in a reality different than that of the caregiver not impacted by dementia. Therefore, allowing them to live in a somewhat different world in some situations can be the best move for their health and overall well being.
Krisca Te works with Open Colleges, Australia's leading provider of TAFE courses equivalent and aged care and disability courses. When not working, you can find her on Google+ or spends the day with her baby boy.