What is a therapeutic lie? A therapeutic lie is the practice of telling “white lies” to a patient with dementia. This is done to keep the person with dementia from becoming agitated.
In the support group that I facilitate one of the first responses a group member will say after hearing the term therapeutic lie is, “I can’t lie to my loved one”. As caregivers we always want to be honest, but there are times that telling the person with dementia the truth will only make them upset.
To illustrate this I’ll provide two examples. Many times, especially if the person with dementia has just moved, they will ask repeatedly to go home. They may be talking about a home they lived in for thirty years or their childhood home. A good response might be to reassure them that they are in a safe place and then point out familiar artwork or framed photographs of loved ones to make them feel more comfortable in their environment. Another example is when the person with dementia asks about their deceased spouse. One response could be reassuring them that the spouse is doing well and loves them. You could also respond by saying, “I was just thinking about them” and then start discussing a vacation that everyone took together.
If this is the first time you are learning about this communication technique it may sound strange. But it really does work! There is no point in reminding someone of a negative event if they are only going to forget it the next day and ask you again. Using this technique will make the person with dementia feel calm and safe which is the best thing for them.
Roslyn Paine, MSW, LSW
DignityFirst Health at Home Care Manager