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Communicating with Someone who has Alzheimer’s Disease

By February 20, 2015Dementia

The question, “Is it okay to lie to someone with Alzheimer’s disease?” gets asked a lot. It’s difficult telling the truth to someone when you know the answer is one that hurts. Often times, a person with dementia will ask about their spouse when they may have been deceased for years. They might ask about their own parents when they, too have been deceased for many years. A person with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease loses touch with reality, and sometimes reality throws a lot of harsh things our way; so harsh that we don’t even want to mention them. Unfortunately, that doesn’t fully answer the question. There are multiple factors that play into this topic.

The first factor is about the person’s safety. You want to make them feel the most comfortable if possible. There is potential that a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s might not recognize their caregiver. They might see that person as a potential spouse or family member. However, there is no reason to make them believe that their caregiver is someone else. You want your senior loved one to feel comfortable around the one caring for them. There is no need to lie, because you want what’s best for your loved one.

On the other hand, if you’ve moved a parent or loved one into a smaller house in order to make their lives’ more manageable, they might have a lot of questions about their old house, especially if they had been living there for many years. They might ask, “When are we going home?” or “When do we get to leave?” They might even have their bags packed when you come to visit them, because they feel like a stranger in their new home. This is when it’s best to deflect such questions. Again, the idea to do what’s safest for them. The last thing you want is for a loved one with dementia to get into a car and attempt to drive away. That puts multiple people at risk.

As stated previously, when these tough questions are asked, it’s best to deflect them. If you tell them this is their home, they might panic due to the unfamiliarity of it. Of course, deflecting questions isn’t a loophole around lying. You’re still withholding the truth, so you’re not being honest. Nevertheless, you shouldn’t feel so bad about it because you’re not deliberately lying to a loved one for bad intentions. You want what’s best for them.

The moral of the story is morality. It’s not a static line that tells you, “If you do this you’re bad. If you do this you’re good.” It’s not so black and white. It alters and changes much like the world around you. Do what’s best for your loved one and your emotional well-being. If you can’t bring yourself to lie to a person with dementia then don’t. However, in your heart, if you truly believe you’re doing what’s best for them, then that’s okay, too. After all, we’ll whatever we can to make our loved ones happy.

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