Therapeutic Fibbing: The Ethics of Lying to Your Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease

Most of society would agree that telling the truth is part of our moral responsibility to each other, especially to our parents or spouse. The idea of lying to your loved one may seem cruel or unfair and elicit feelings of guilt. However, if you’re caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, sometimes telling the truth can do more harm than good. 

According to Clarity Pointe Jacksonville’s Executive Director, Amanda S. King, “There are legitimate circumstances when dealing with Alzheimer’s that it’s better to fib than state the truth. Painful truths can cause a loved one to feel anxious, frustrated, stressed and angry. Keeping them from getting upset or acting on harmful behaviors sometimes takes priority over absolute honesty.” 

Why Fibbing Is Viewed as Acceptable Therapy

Years ago, professionals thought it was best to reorient those with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia to bring them back to reality. As most caregivers know, this doesn’t usually work for getting a loved one to cooperate or understand their surroundings, and it only upsets them more.

In her article, “My Dad Has Alzheimer’s. Is It Ever Okay to Lie to Him if It Calms Him Down?,” Alzheimer’s and dementia expert Carrie Hill, PhD,states that “Alzheimer’s affects the brain in such a way that trying to reason or use logic with the person no longer works.” For instance, if your loved one believes her deceased spouse is out fishing, reminding her of her husband’s death will probably do little more than cause intense grief and anxiety.

“The bottom line is,” Hill explains, “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.” 

How to Use Therapeutic Fibbing

It’s important for caregivers to remember that therapeutic fibbing does not involve intentionally deceiving their loved one. Rather, as Dr. Amy D’Aprix says in her article “White Lies: When Fibbing Is … Therapeutic?,” “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.”

For example, if your loved one is insistent on driving into town, you can tell a therapeutic fib and say that a bus or cab is coming to pick them up in an hour or so. This way, you avoid upsetting them by reminding them of their inability to drive. You can meet them in the peace of their own reality while still ensuring their safety.

“While therapeutic fibbing isn’t appropriate for every circumstance,” Dr. D’Aprix states, “when used correctly, it offers a much kinder, practical way to stop troubling behavior and reduce emotional distress.”

She offers some helpful guidelines for caregivers when it comes to therapeutic fibbing:

  • Change the subject – Rather than agreeing or disagreeing with your loved one, redirect them to a different topic of conversation to distract them from their current train of thought.
  • Validate their feelings – Identify and respond to the emotion driving their behavior. If your father won’t go outside because he’s assumed his childhood fear of the neighbor’s dog, empathize with his fear and assure him that no harm will come to him while he’s outside.
  • Switch it up – Therapeutic fibbing is not a cure-all for every Alzheimer’s-related behavior. Consider fibbing as a tactic to use in moderation and in combination with other techniques.
  • Prioritize safety and well-being – Use therapeutic fibbing only when it’s necessary to create safety, enhance quality of life and ensure your loved one’s well-being (fibbing to convince your mother to take her medication is a good use of this technique).
  • Understand Alzheimer’s – Since Alzheimer’s and dementia are degenerative diseases that destroy the brain and the ability to process and store memories, people in the later stages are cognitively incapable of recognizing reality. Forcing it upon them may only lead to greater confusion, agitation or discomfort.
  • Let it be – If your loved one is peaceful and in no immediate danger, there’s no harm in letting them stay in their own reality, no matter how disconnected they may be from the present.
  • Trust your intuition – When it comes to easing tough moments, do what feels right. You know your loved one best.

Despite the discomfort or guilt you may feel from fibbing to your loved one, it’s important to realize when it may be in their best interest. Ultimately, your role as their caregiver makes you responsible for their ongoing well-being and sense of safety. If telling a harmless fib protects them from an unnecessary, upsetting situation, you’re really providing the best care for them at the time.

Where Caregivers Can Find Support

As you continue your caregiving journey, new questions and concerns, such as whether to fib to your loved one, are sure to arise. Fortunately, there are valuable resources available for family caregivers at specialized Memory Care communities like Clarity Pointe Jacksonville. “Memory care is all we do,” Amanda S. King says. “We understand how intricately Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss affects the entire family.

“Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia is a difficult responsibility,” King continues. “At Clarity Pointe Jacksonville, we offer a variety of support groups and educational seminars to help families and caregivers better understand Alzheimer’s and its symptoms. Most importantly, though, we want caregivers to know that they are not alone.” 

Clarity Pointe … Our Difference is Clear

Clarity Pointe’s Specialized Memory Care “Living” Neighborhoods are truly changing lives for those with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias – and for those who love them. At Clarity Pointe, our mission is to ensure our residents lead connected and rewarding lives. 

Unlike other providers that offer a secure memory care wing in a skilled nursing or assisted living center, Clarity Pointe Jacksonville offers three freestanding, purpose-built Memory Care communities that are solely and entirely dedicated to Memory Care Assisted Living. Our communities blend luxurious surroundings with specialized care that is individualized to each resident and delivered by a compassionate, expert team of professionals.

We stay current on the latest trends and advancements in Alzheimer’s care and implement them into our residents’ care plans. Always moving forward, we combine the latest in evidence-based programming with luxurious, residential living and compassionate respectful care.

For each of our residents, we offer a life that is engaging, fulfilling, inspiring and meaningful.

To learn more today about the Clarity Pointe Difference, contact us today!