My mom had always insisted that I never to lie to her. I was brought up that if I told the truth, the punishment for whatever I had done, would be far less than if she had to ferret the truth out of me.
All of my life, I tried really hard to tell the truth. Even when I knew I was in trouble.
So imagine the guilt I battled, when I had to embrace a technique called “therapeutic fibbing” to manage my mom’s dementia and confusion. Sometimes, in order to keep your loved one calm and soothed, you need to be a little creative with their reality. You cannot rationalize with dementia. If your loved one thinks it’s June, and there is a foot of snow outside…. it’s June.
I cannot tell you how many times I repeated that as a “mantra” of sorts, walking down the hall to her room. Bracing myself for whatever I might face that day. Dementia patients feel grief over and over again, if you tell them the truth. For example, when they ask about a loved one who is dead, telling them the truth can be cruel. They don’t remember what you’ve told them, and they will relive that “death” over and over again if you try to explain it. Or, they might get upset with you, and accuse you of lying to them (even though you are telling the truth). They can’t believe or process what you are saying, so to them, it may become offensive.
Bob DeMarco put it perfectly when he wrote:
When someone living with Alzheimer's repeats the same question for the tenth time, you'll learn once you make it to Alzheimer's World that they are asking you the question for the first time -- each time.
When my mom would ask about “her people”, or my father, or whomever popped into her mind, I made up excuses as to why they were absent. When she wanted to know when she was moving, I would say soon. When she asked about her dog, I would say it happened to be at the groomer’s or out for a walk.
Lies, all lies. My heart was so heavy, but it was the best I could do. My main goal was to do my very best, to keep her happy for whatever time she had left. I worked very hard to avoid situations or conversations that brought her stress, anxiety, or more confusion. Some days were easier than others. When she would ask, “Are you taking me home?” that was the hardest.
Instead of outright answering her with a “No”, I simply told her that I didn’t have an extra bedroom right this minute, and we needed to have enough room for her things. I assured her I was working on it and it would all be taken care of. She was satisfied, thinking the ball was in motion and it bought me some time until she asked again.
When she refused to get out of bed, and pointed to “that” on the floor, (we never really figured out what that was), I would bend down and begin “sweeping”, pretending to mop and clean, until “that” was no longer a concern. When she would tell me all about her plans to move, and go “home”, and what type of job she was looking for, I would tell her that was a very good idea and it sounded like she would really enjoy her new job. She would smile and continue telling me about all of the ways she could help people. I told her they would be lucky to have her. I was lucky to have her.
During one visit, she showed me a little coin purse she had, where she was hiding her “bus fare.” I told her that was really smart, and to just keep saving. She was so proud of the progress she was making towards her bus ticket. We talked about where she would go, and how long it would take to get there. I tried to honor and respect my mom, though she was no longer the mom I had known growing up. I would see glimpses of her now and then, but as time went on, those faded more and more.
There was a man at the memory care facility who used to really bother me. I often overheard him talking over his mom while she was speaking, as if she wasn’t even there. She would tell the same stories over and over, and I knew he was tired of hearing them. Sometimes I would ask her a question and try to include her in conversation. He would answer for her or loudly talk over her, drowning her out. I could see the distress on her face and the frustration. It was so sad. He was more interested in having his say, and correcting her mistakes, than letting her be.
Though seeing those interactions, hurt my heart, I did understand the long days of confusing conversation. I knew how taxing it was mentally to try and interact with a dementia patient. There are many things I would do different, if I could. I’m sure maybe one day he’ll look back and say the same. It is a learning process, and no one does all of it right. It’s like raising a child for the first time. Everything is a new learning experience.
Changes took place daily, sometimes hourly with my mom. The woman who adored Godiva chocolate cheesecake, suddenly hated chocolate. She would tell me it was bad and refuse to eat anything chocolate. So we switched to something else. It was exhausting to keep up.
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.” “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.”
*The Precious Memories posts you read here, are dedicated to my mother, who battled Alzheimer's. I share snippets of our story, and some things I learned along the way.
Precious Memories Part 1
Precious Memories Part 2
Precious Memories Part 3
Precious Memories Part 4
Precious Memories Part 5
Precious Memories Part 6
Precious Memories Part 7