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Is it OK to tell a fib?


Question: I am a CareGiver with Home Instead in Vancouver Washington. I love my clients! I have a client with dementia who lost her husband three years ago. As her disease has progressed, she has forgotten her husband died and asks the same questions eight times daily. She asks, “When will he will stop running around with those floozies? He is cheating and running off with other women and I want him home." She also continues this chain of thought by admitting she forgives him and will take him back. I have used the strategy of distraction, empathy, telling her the truth, and even discussing it as a possible reality. Any tips on how I can help her with these painful thoughts?

Dr. Amy: I am big fan of redirection and empathy. There are so many great topics of conversation for you to introduce, springboarding off key words that she mentions. You can ask her about her husband. How did they meet? When did they get married? What was the wedding day like? Where did they live? What was her favorite vacation? What did he do for a living? You could have hours of conversation about that subject!

I also encourage you to think about what she is really missing when she says she is missing her husband. She wants him home. Is she feeling lonely? What if you were to say, “It’s so nice to be home with you.” And lead the conversation in the direction of home: ask about interesting furniture or pictures. Where else have they lived?   

I don’t think there is much to be gained by telling the truth. Because of her disease, your client lives in her own world. There is little point in repeating things that will only cause her anguish.

Sometimes it’s OK to fib, and say something like, “Yes, wouldn't it be nice if he were home! Why don’t we put the kettle on and make a nice cup of tea while we wait?” I recently wrote an article on the topic of therapeutic fibbing, which you might like to read.

It sounds like you are doing a great job! Keep up the great work!

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