Using Lying as a Tool in Alzheimer's Care

Last updated: October 2022

Have you ever told a little white lie to your loved one with Alzheimer's and felt terrible about it afterward? Or, have you ever withheld certain information from your loved one and felt guilty for not being more forthcoming?

I think every Alzheimer's caregiver has been there. Even though we know it's in our loved one's best interest, we still feel guilty for lying to them. Many times, it simply does not benefit our loved ones to know the whole truth.

There are also many times it's just easier for the caregiver to fib a little or withhold some of the information. We know that if we tell our loved ones every little detail, they are likely to become upset, agitated, or more confused, making the caregiver's job harder than it already is.

We know all of this, yet we still feel guilty for lying to them. Why is that?

Is lying wrong?

If you think about it, we grew up our entire lives being told that lying was wrong.

Our parents taught us not to lie. They said things like, "Honesty is always the best policy." We were disciplined if we were ever caught lying to our parents or our teachers at school. But now that we care for a loved one with Alzheimer's, we are being told that it is not only okay to lie, but it's often necessary to do so. We are being told to forget everything we've ever known about lying. No wonder we feel so conflicted!

Flipping the perspective

I think it helps not to think of it as lying but as saving our loved ones from the truth.

If your loved one asks where their parents are, and you know they are no longer living, it's okay to say they are at work or away on a trip. If your loved one wants to go home and you know they are already home, telling them they can go home in a little while or after lunch is okay.

If your loved one refuses to take their medication, it's okay to conceal it in some apple sauce or yogurt without telling them it's in there. These are all little white lies we use to protect our loved ones and maintain our sanity.

Utilizing lying as a tool

It's no worse than when a parent tells their child that their favorite toy — the one that plays loud music and drives the parent crazy — is broken, so they can't play with it. It's no different than when a parent tells their child that the swings at the park are closed today, so they can't go.

We normalize these little fibs to children because it protects the parent's sanity, and the child won't know any better anyway. Granted, our loved ones are full-grown adults, and we should not treat them like children, but when it comes to fibbing, the same principle can be applied.

While it is normal to feel guilty for lying to your loved one with Alzheimer's, it is also normal. Lying, fibbing, withholding the truth, or whatever you want to call it, can be a helpful tool in protecting your loved one from feeling scared, anxious, confused, or agitated. It can also help you maintain your sanity and give you a little break in a very difficult situation.

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