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How to Connect to Someone With Dementia – What to Know

It can be challenging to connect with people with dementia. There may be times where they ask difficult questions that you don’t have a direct answer to. According to Alzheimer’s Society, honesty is not always the best policy when it comes to dementia care. One tactic that could work is therapeutic lying—telling a white lie that results in temporarily placating the person with memory loss. Sometimes, it’s the best you can do to avoid a potentially frustrating situation. 

Questions that a person with dementia may possibly ask

People with dementia can ask challenging questions—questions that are difficult to answer, especially when they pertain to events that have happened a long time ago. Here are the types of questions they might ask:

  • When is mom coming to visit? (When their mother passed long ago)
  • Will I be coming home soon (When they are taking up permanent residence in a nursing home or memory care facility)
  • Why are you nice to me? Who are you? (Person with dementia to their partner or relative)
  • Did you steal something from me? (Person living in the same memory care facility)

If you’re looking after people with dementia, responding to these difficult albeit simple questions could prove to be challenging. You may not know how to walk the line between telling a lie or revealing the brutal truth. But remember that how you respond will affect how the person feels and behave. If you approach the answer the wrong way, there’s a possibility that you may strain your relationship. 

The truth and lying are not black and white concepts

A report by the Mental Health Foundation posited that the truth and lies are not as simple as black and white. There are differences between telling the absolute truth, looking for an “alternative meaning,” telling something else as a form of distraction, “going along with,” and blatant lying. No one likes lying to a loved one, so as you grapple with deception, you may find yourself feeling guilty and less at ease. 

If things were simple, the obvious response would be telling the person with dementia the whole truth. Then again, the entire truth can sometimes be a “brutal” truth, that can result in confusion and frustration. If they happen to ask whether a long-dead parent is still alive, can you stomach telling them the whole truth?

How to select a response that can reduce distress

Caregivers in charge of looking after people with dementia instinctively gravitate towards telling the whole truth, but you also want to minimize any distress that could result in responding. The best thing you can do is seek out a balance or a “least bad” tradeoff. Your approach could be supporting a direct lie, only if it means doing everything else would cause the person significant physical or psychological harm. Professionals refer to this as a “therapeutic lie,” but it needs to be used with caution. You should only tell a therapeutic lie under selected conditions, and with absolute care. 

Lying to a loved one is not ideal, but sometimes, it needs to be done so they would not inflict harm. If you need more help in caring for people with dementia in Houston, get in touch with us for memory care or dementia care assistance.

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