Truth, Lies and Dementia

truthlieLast week I read a blog discussing the ethical issue of using “fiblets” when dealing with someone who has dementia. The author was adamantly opposed to ever telling a lie. My stomach clenched because I have told some whoppers. I suggest there is a very fine line between right and wrong and every person and situation differs – the rule is gray — not black and white.

The first years I struggled with the issue of truth. Telling it only got me into fights with my Mother. She didn’t believe she had a stroke, asked me to stop by to pay bills or even that their licenses were revoked. We eventually had to hide their cars. The full story is covered in Operation Safety Net.

Other issues erupted and we would try to explain the situation — I finally concluded Explaining Just Makes You Feel Better — it didn’t help the situation and usually created more problems and arguments. In most cases, my parents NEVER remembered the event that had created a problem and thought we were liars for repeating the story to them.

The first doctor that diagnosed my parents told me:  Sometimes You Have to Be Sneaky. It took me a while to recognize that he was right and I needed to overcome my “honest Abe” issues and either keep quiet or in the most pivotal moments tell a whopper of a story. When the retirement community was going to terminate my parents Independent Living contract, we created a situation to ensure my parents ended up in the Assisted Living section of the Continuing Care Retirement Community they selected.

I have never lied to parents to make things easier for me. I have avoided topics, reworded responses in order to keep life as pleasant as I could for them. I have never once taken my role lightly or felt that my actions disrespected my parents. My overriding principle is to treat them as I would want to be treated. I hope you all find peace in the tough choices you have to make on this difficult journey. Wished. 

I‘d love to hear from you. Please share your thoughts on the topic. Have you ever had to tell a “fiblet” but did so because it was in the best interest of a parent or loved one?


3 thoughts on “Truth, Lies and Dementia

  1. I wish I had known, early in dealing with my mother’s dementia, that telling the truth on some topics was pointless. My wife and I tried to treat her, in the moment, with the respectful truth owed to “the old mum”, the pre-Alzheimer’s Mum, and all we ever achieved was creating distress and grief over her loss of independent living status, her car, her freedom, essentially, and even, eventually, her home and her country of residence. Anyone who thinks a “little white lie” to get past the moment is morally wrong is deluded.

  2. I totally agree. I learned that I could not bring mom to my reality. Instead I had to accept hers and respond accordingly. Sometimes I just agreed with her or I said I would take care of those problems for her. She was convinced there was money or property her relatives had forgotten to take care of before they died. I finally just agreed to take care of it for her. After she passed, I reviewed her files and confirmed that all had been taken care of decades before. Sometimes it is better to agree and move on rather than let them worry about things they have concerns about.

  3. One definitely has to pick their battles when dealing with dementia. As long as the patient’s well-being is not harmed, not insisting on the truth all the time can help avoid ugly fights. Dementia patients often will forget what you tell them quickly, but you have to live with your choice of words for the rest of your life.

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