Thought of The Week: Using Therapeutic Lies to Soothe Anxiety Associated with Dementia

Senior Care: Long Island, New York

Telling a lie was a big no-no in my house growing up.  It was always better to tell the truth than to get caught lying.  My mom’s famous words were, “when you lie, you are insulting my intelligence”.

But lying can be a very helpful way to manage your loved one’s dementia symptoms especially when that person is fixated on something that is causing anxiety.  For instance, if the person with dementia keeps asking for a deceased spouse, the best response is to say that the spouse is not here right now but tell me more about him or her.  This is a way of redirecting so that the person does not have to relive the loss or grief and the caretaker does not have to manage the emotions that will soon ensue.

Therapeutic lies become particularly important for families who need home care services in order to manage the care of a loved one with dementia and that person refuses to use the services.  As an example, referring to a home care worker as a “family friend” or a “student” who is there to keep the person company or to learn a new trade rather than a home care aide can be much better received and accepted by the person.  We have seen this strategy work very well time and time again especially when getting through the first few home care visits.

It may appear dishonest, but families are doing themselves and their loved ones a disservice by not using therapeutic lies.  Often, people with dementia lose the ability to use good judgment.  When a person who has dementia is given the ability to make decisions regarding his or her own well-being and chooses to not get help, it can have many detrimental consequences many of which we have seen as missing medications,  malnutrition, falls in the home, car accidents, unaddressed medical symptoms, and much more.

The next time your loved one is making decisions that are not in his or her own best interest, remember that a therapeutic lie can be the difference between a very safe, secure, and protected situation versus a hazardous and dangerous one.


Jennifer Benjamin
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