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The Little White Lies Alzheimer's Caregivers Tell Seniors

The Little White Lies Alzheimer's Caregivers Tell Seniors

One of the hallmark symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease is short-term memory loss. As the disease advances, a senior might not recognize their loved ones or recognize where they are. Memory loss can cause confusion and agitation as the older adult struggles to make sense of what is happening to them. The cognitive changes associated with Alzheimer’s disease can affect a senior’s daily life and be difficult for the senior and those who love them.

One issue family caregivers often encounter is whether or not to correct a senior when they’ve forgotten something important. This is referred to as therapeutic lying.

What is Therapeutic Lying?

Sometimes telling the truth to a person who has Alzheimer’s may create unnecessary anxiety. In some situations, the truth can also cause them great emotional pain. Caregivers often wonder if they should use little white lies to shield their loved one. 

There are two schools of thought on the use of therapeutic lying. Some experts believe that lying for any reason can damage the relationship between a senior with Alzheimer’s and their loved ones. Other experts say there is no point in correcting someone with Alzheimer’s disease. Because of their inability to retain new information, telling the truth serves no purpose.

When the decision is made to tell a little white lie to a senior with Alzheimer’s, be sure it is done with the person’s best interest in mind. Ask yourself if it will help them find peace and protect their sense of well-being. 

When the Truth Harms a Senior with Alzheimer’s

For a family caregiver, telling the truth may offer no real benefit. In fact, it could actually cause harm. Grief is one example of how a person with Alzheimer’s could be forced to relive a loss over and over again. 

A senior with Alzheimer’s might repeatedly ask to “go home.” For them, home might be the place where they grew up. In their mind, it is a place of comfort where their parents still live. In reality, the senior’s parents have passed away many years ago and the family home has long since been sold.

Instead of telling them that they can’t go home every time the issue is raised, it might be more compassionate to tell them a therapeutic lie. A family caregiver can say the senior’s parents are working and won’t be home until much later. This might satisfy the person with Alzheimer’s and redirect their attention.

When memory loss is the result of cognitive impairment, a caregiver may view telling a white lie to be better than telling the truth. Family caregivers should trust their instincts and do what feels best for their loved one. 

A Bridge to Rediscovery at Five Star Senior Living

At Five Star Senior Living communities, we use a Montessori-Based Dementia Programming (MBDP) approach developed by Dr. Cameron Camp. Our in-house trainers teach team members how to use these principles to support the success of seniors with dementia. 

From knowing how to provide verbal cues to using repetition, this approach allows residents in our Bridge to Rediscovery memory care program to live their best quality of life. We invite you to schedule a tour at the community nearest you to learn more!


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