Honesty and Dementia

honestyI work with a client who has some cognitive impairment and an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. After we work on bill payments and review his accounts, I take the mail to the post office. Well, I took two birthday cards for his daughter, promised to put stamps on them, and mailed then without stamps!

I called him and told him what I had done and suggested a solution. I would pick him up to go get new cards, then fed-ex them to they arrived on time. He chuckled at me and and told me not to worry about it.

I gotta say, I was sick about it. I didn’t want his daughter to be disappointed or think he forgot her birthday. Watching a loved one change is so difficult, and I didn’t want her to think he didn’t remember her birthday, or was to a point that he couldn’t get off a card.

It’s the small things that sustain us and make a difference. I needed to let him, and his daughter know it was my failing.

But, there are some issues when honesty hurts. When my parent’s were fighting me and my siblings because they felt like they were doing fine, I thought getting different doctor’s to confirm their diagnosis might help. I sat with them through three different doctor’s telling them they had vascular dementia (mom), and Alzheimer’s (dad). I finally realized it didn’t matter what the diagnosis was, I needed to figure out how to help them and the truth of the matter was inconsequential.

The journey to care for a loved one is tough and will challenge you in ways you never imagined. I hope you will take the time to be kind to yourself and know that you will make the best decision you can with the information you have when it needs to be made. When will what you know or honesty hurt and when will it help is a lesson I still keep trying to master. Confessed. 

3 thoughts on “Honesty and Dementia

  1. In the early stages, yes. Later on, not so much. When I was first told about “therapeutic lying” by the gerontologist, I wasn’t impressed but over the months since then I’ve come to realize it’s essential. My husband is considered to have “moderate” dementia. Many times when I answer one of his questions with the truth, he becomes very agitated and upset and that brings on even greater confusion and sometimes aggression. It can last for hours. Not good for him or me. Answering him with what he wants to hear keeps him calm. Within 5-10 minutes he has forgotten both the question and the answer. So what would have been the point of sticking to the truth?

    1. I fully understand what you saying. I spent a year trying to understand the role of “therapeutic lying”, “fiblets”, or as my parents psychologist told me “learn to be sneaky.” I finally reached a place where I would answer the truth ONCE to a question, usually my mom, was demanding. I would listen quietly, eventually excuse myself, and allow her to reset. I would never answer with the full truth again. I felt I needed to be honest about the changes we were implementing, some they didn’t want, if at least only once. I would redirect or altogether skirt answering when I knew the issue would create an argument. Your husband is lucky to have you. It’s a tough journey and we all need to find our way and will do the best we can. Peace to you both.

  2. My mother is 87 and she doesn’t have dementia but I tell fibs sometimes. More often, I omit things I don’t want her to worry about or things that I don’t want be asked about constantly.

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