May 11, 2018 by Dean Bellefeuille

Helping Seniors with Dementia

Very early on in life, we learn the story of George Washington’s misadventure with the cherry tree and his bold admittance to his parents, “I cannot tell a lie; I chopped down the cherry tree!” Honesty is integrated within our character, and in many cases telling a tiny white lie can wrack us with guilt. But could it actually be beneficial to fib when we want to communicate and provide dementia support to a loved one with Alzheimer’s?

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “loving deception” entails allowing someone with dementia to keep uncorrected misconceptions to be able to reduce anxiety and agitation. For example, say your father with Alzheimer’s consistently asks for his parents. The truth is, his parents both passed away many years ago; but keeping him from re-experiencing the raw sadness of learning this truth over and over again provides a bit of comfort. An appropriate response may be, “They are not here now, but they’re out together enjoying the afternoon.”

Martin Schreiber, author of “My Two Elaines: Learning, Coping and Surviving as an Alzheimer’s Caregiver”, explains that there is no benefit to correcting loved ones with dementia. He reports, “This concerns the power of joining the world of the individual with Alzheimer’s.”

Nevertheless, it is important to confine the white lies to instances where the senior would be upset and gain no benefit from being told the reality, particularly if questions about the situation are repeatedly being asked. There is certainly a time and place for honesty in dementia, such as when a family member has just passed on, and the person deserves the opportunity to work through initial grief.

These further tactics can also help restore calm, in lieu of lying:

Switch topics to something more fun or calming.

Try to discern the emotion being expressed and help manage that.

Listen to the individual with empathy and acknowledge the feelings being experienced.

With huge numbers of Americans currently living with Alzheimer’s disease – as many as 5.5 million estimated in 2017 by the Alzheimer’s Association, and a full 32 percent of those ages 85 and older – it’s necessary for all of us to learn methods to effectively communicate with those impacted by the disease as we anxiously await a remedy. 

For further communication guidelines and methods to apply with your loved one with Alzheimer’s disease, contact the dementia care experts at At Home Independent Living. We’re also on hand to offer professional, specialized in-home care for anyone with Alzheimer’s, as well as education for families to better manage the condition. Call us at (315) 579-HOME (4663) to let our Syracuse in home senior care experts start helping your family today!