Is It Ever Okay to Be Dishonest With Our Loved Ones Suffering With Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease?

I’m actively involved in several online support groups for caregivers and sufferers of dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease.

Again and again, when caregivers post about issues and problems they are having in their roles as caregivers for loved ones who have dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, I see in the responses, from other caregivers, the overwhelming advice to tell “fiblets” to handle the tough issues or problems.

I have noted that none of the dementias and Alzheimer’s Dementia sufferers in these groups offer this advice. Instead, they stress telling the truth at all times because as loved ones who are suffering with these diseases, they want to know the people they’ve entrusted their care to are being honest with them.

It is only the caregivers who suggest being dishonest and deceitful.

I’d never heard the term “fiblets” until I joined these support groups, but I know what that means morally and ethically. It is a synonymous term for an equally ubiquitous term in the general population: “little white lie.” (Lies, by the way, are lies. All the minimizing adjectives in the world do not change the bottom line of being dishonest and deceitful.)

lies deception fiction alzheimer's disease dementia caregivingEach time I see the word fiblet, I physically and mentally cringe. Partly because of the “it’s okay” mentality of those suggesting being dishonest by a labyrinth of excuses and justifications that, in the end, ring hollow.

And I cringe partly because of my own internal rejection of the morality and the ethics of being dishonest with anyone, no matter what his or her current neurological/mental/physical state. Beyond my foundation of absolute right and wrong that says that all dishonesty is wrong, I see the practical and detrimental effects of this practice in the relationships involved.

If I, as a caregiver for a loved one suffering from dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease, am willing to be dishonest about routine matters (e.g., “Dad left the house,” when Dad is actually there or Dad is dead, “I called the doctor,” when in fact no call was made, or “your brother/son was here yesterday,” when he was not or is dead) with my loved one(s), then how can I be trusted, in a general sense, and by my loved one and everyone else in my life, to be honest about anything else?

I destroy my credibility one lie at a time. And I create, in my own mind, each time I am dishonest, a myth that it’s okay, that it’s the easiest way, and that it’s necessary. And, I also am creating a habit that will automatically default to dishonesty any time I face a difficult situation in life. At some point, down the road, I won’t be able myself to know what is true and what is not because of all the lies I’ve told before.

So, not only have I broken the trust of my loved one(s) who’ve entrusted their care and their lives to me, but I have also broken the trust of everyone else in my life.

So, is it ever okay to be dishonest with our loved ones suffering from dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease?

The unequivocal answer is “No!”

7 thoughts on “Is It Ever Okay to Be Dishonest With Our Loved Ones Suffering With Dementias and Alzheimer’s Disease?

  1. I have faced this conundrum MANY, MANY times over the years with my parents. The first psychologist who was trying to help us guide our parents to a safe living arrangement told us we had to be “sneaky” – I struggled with that.

    I chose often to change the topic and avoid the subject. However, when my parents were going to be kicked out of Independent Living to Assisted Living, had we not “sold” their town home before the facility delivered this news, my parents would have moved into it and throw away their deposit in the CACR – and we would have had to go to court to sue for guardianship.

    I did not like it, and neither did my siblings, but it was the only way we could guide our parents to accept the change. My parents were the happiest I had seen them within a week of the transition — the one that NEVER would have accepted.

    I think this topic is a lot more gray.

  2. I once heard a daughter tell her dad with dementia over and over that his wife was dead. He was horrified, saddened and then asked again, “where is mother?” so she kept telling him the truth— that she was dead. In my mind that wasn’t conveying trust; it was being cruel.

    • I would say “she’s not here.” That’s honest without being cruel. There is a way to be honest and to maintain our integrity without being cruel. The problem with making something up because it’s easier is that the more we do it, the more of a habit it becomes and the habit will spill over into all our relationships when we don’t want to deal with sensitive or hard issues or problems. Being dishonest will become a part of who we are – our character – and that’s a serious issue.

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