“Therapeutic Fibbing”: Sometimes it’s the Kindest Thing You Can Do for Your Loved One with Alzheimer’s

smiling couple alzheimer'sThroughout our lives, we’ve been programmed to always be truthful. As young schoolchildren, we learned that George Washington stated, “I cannot tell a lie!” We have also had experiences that confirm that Benjamin Franklin was right when he said, “Honesty is the best policy.” Telling the truth has always been viewed as a moral responsibility.

When the Truth Can Be Harmful

However, as Ms. Shellie Kermin, Community Relations Director of North Woods Village at Edison Lakes says, “If you are caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or other form of dementia today, there are legitimate exceptions to the rule. Telling the truth to your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease can sometimes be very upsetting to them. For example, they might believe a deceased spouse is still alive and ask where they are. Telling them the unhappy truth can result in undue anxiety, stress, agitation and even anger. In such situations, ignorance – that is, not making them deal with reality – can be bliss.”

Why “Therapeutic Fibbing” is Viewed as Acceptable Therapy

Carrie Hill, PhD, writer and Alzheimer’s expert, states in her article, “My dad has Alzheimer’s. Is it ever okay to lie to him if it calms him down?,” “Many years ago, it was thought that reality orientation should be used when Alzheimer’s individuals became confused. In other words, if the person thought their parents were still alive, it was recommended that they be told the truth – that their parents were dead – in order to bring her back to reality. Obviously, this approach doesn’t work, because it only upsets the person more.

“Alzheimer’s affects the brain in such a way that trying to reason or use logic with the person no longer works. The bottom line is that if a white lie is the only way to make your loved one feel better in a particular situation, and it isn’t hurting anyone, then you’re helping your loved one by entering their world instead of forcing reality upon them.”

She adds that validating your loved one’s emotions and attempting to redirect the conversation to another subject are often useful tactics. However, if these approaches do not work, “therapeutic fibbing” is a legitimate option.

Guidance for Using Therapeutic Fibbing with Your Loved One

Aging and caregiving expert, Dr. Amy D’Aprix, offers some useful advice to caregivers on when fibbing is appropriate. In her article, White Lies: When Fibbing Is… Therapeutic?,” Dr. D’Aprix says, “Therapeutic fibbing involves bending the truth to meet your family member in his or her current reality, where you can encourage behavior for his or her safety and well-being. While therapeutic fibbing isn’t appropriate for every circumstance, when used correctly, it offers a much kinder, practical way to stop troubling behavior and reduce emotional distress. Who wouldn’t do that for family?”

In her article, she offers the following useful guidance and advice for caregivers:

  • Change the Subject – Instead of upsetting them with the truth, distract your loved one by changing the subject.
  • Empathize and Validate their Feelings – Identify and respond to the emotion driving the behavior. For example, if your father refuses to go outside because he’s assumed his 5-year-old self who fears the neighbor’s dog, empathize with this fear. Assure him no harm will come while he’s outdoors.
  • Mix It Up – View therapeutic fibbing as a technique to use in combination with other methods. It’s not a cure-all for every Alzheimer’s and dementia-related behavior.
  • Safety and Well-being Rule – Use therapeutic fibbing only when necessary to create safety, enhance quality of life and ensure your loved one’s well-being.
  • Understand the Disease – Alzheimer’s and dementia are degenerative diseases that destroy the brain and ability to process and store memories. People in later stages of these illnesses are often cognitively incapable of recognizing reality. Trying to force them to comprehend it may only lead to greater confusion, agitation and discomfort.
  • Let It Be – If your loved one is peaceful and no immediate danger will result, there’s no harm in letting them stay in their personal reality, no matter how disconnected from the present.
  • Let Your Intuition be Your Guide – You know your loved one best. When it comes to easing tough moments, do what feels right.

You might feel uncomfortable with fibbing to your loved one, but it is important to realize that it can be in their overall best interest. As a caregiver, you are ultimately responsible for their ongoing well-being and protecting them from upsetting situations can be the kindest thing you can do.

Help Is Available for Caregivers

Today, a variety of resources is available to assist caregivers who are caring for their loved ones at home, including Alzheimer’s Association services, support groups, self-help guides, Respite Care services, in-home support, community-based services and educational programs. Progressive residential Memory Care Communities (MCCs), such as North Woods Village at Edison Lakes, offer a variety of educational programs, support and special events designed to help family caregivers.

Guiding. Caring. Inspiring.

For caregivers who recognize that the needs of their loved one are beyond what they can safely and appropriately provide in the home environment, leading, residential Memory Care Assisted Living Communities (MCALs), such as North Woods Village at Edison Lakes and its “NEW DIRECTIONS”SM  program in Mishawaka, IN, provide the full continuum of services that have been shown to improve health and well-being, support brain health and delay the progression of memory loss from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

At North Woods Village at Edison Lakes, we believe senior adults thrive in an environment that offers an active, vibrant lifestyle with a variety of activities that engage the mind, body and spirit. Our “NEW DIRECTIONS”SM  provides a safe, professional environment and proven, best-practice programs and services specifically designed to address the total physical, emotional and social needs of individuals with Alzheimer’s, dementia or other serious form of memory impairment.

For more information and helpful resources, contact us today!