Is it OK to lie (fib) to someone with dementia?

My mother is in a “Memory Care” center. Today, she asked me why she hadn’t heard from Dad recently. Well, Dad died in September.
Is it OK to tell her I spoke with him, or that he’s on a trip and will call when he can?
She can’t remember much from day-to-day, so I don’t think this will cause any problems, and may help her anxiety.

I’m sorry you’re going through this. Lie. No reason to regularly put her through the shock of finding out he died.

I don’t think it would help her anxiety. “Why hasn’t he called; doesn’t he love me anymore?” to the extent that she remembers it at all.

I understand, and sympathize, that it is going to be damn hard for you, but I would tell her the truth, and repeat as necessary. At least that’s what I’d do. If you choose differently, I’m not going to stab you over it.

My grandmother’s doctor said just go with what makes them the most comfortable or happy. Say the thing the causes the least distress.

My grandmother used to see things that weren’t there. At one point she was convinced that there were little birds living in the corner of her apartment. These birds made her very happy. It would have been cruel to try to convince her they were not really there. Thus the greeting, “Hi Grams! How are the birds?” when I would call her. Actually makes me smile to think of it. She passed away 7 years ago. I miss her…and the birds.

I would definitely tell your mother something like he’s on a trip or camping with no cell service, whatever she would believe and accept, that would make her more comfortable.

I think telling her whatever will make her feel best is going to be impossible since that will change from day to day if she’s like the people with dementia I have known. I would tell the truth the first time and then if she asks again in a while I’d lie and try to see if that makes her feel better, but I suspect that will be very variable. Also some with dementia have coherent moments and if you tell her he’s on vacation and then she has a moment of knowing he’s dead that might backfire. Truth is easier for the teller I think, and who knows what’s easier for your mom? I am so sorry you have to deal with this, beowulff.

I once lied to a little old lady, in a nursing home where I worked. I wasn’t in patient care, I was in dietary, but while walking to a serving area this LOL in a wheelchair stopped me. She thought I was a relative I think, because she said she’d heard I’d been fighting with my brothers again, and she wanted us to make peace in the family. I had a split second to decide what to do. I hung my head and said “Yeah, I feel kind of bad about that, I’ll see them and work something out” The LOL wheeled herself away perfectly happy. It was the kind of lie I could live with.

I’m sorry, but my mom had Alzheimer’s and in my opinion this is just cruel. Why make her relive the devastating news of her husband’s death over and over?

When my mother was still home with me, she once found her sister-in-law’s obituary in some old papers. In her mind her sister-in-law was still alive and not only was Mom crushed to read the obituary, but she was horrified that she had missed the funeral. It was heartbreaking and there was no consoling her that day. Thankfully by the next morning she had forgotten.

The Caregiver’s Forum on is a wonderful resource, and there are a lot of threads about lies being a valuable tool to reassure dementia patients.

Warm wishes and strength to you, Beowulff.

This. Most of the people I know would be happier with “he’s on a trip”, I’ve known others who directly asked “is Joe dead?” and don’t try to sugarcoat it.

My grandmother has recently gotten to the point where all her female relatives blur into one and apparently my male cousin does not exist, as she completely ignored him (I suspect she’s confusing him with his much-loathed father); for some reason she still can tell my brothers apart. She addresses the redhead by somebody else’s name, or a daughter by the other’s, to the point of complaining to a daughter that that same daughter never visits? The standard response is along the lines of “u-hu, are you sure you’re not wearing too much clothing? You’re half out of your clothes again”.

When I worked at a continued care retirement facility the standard protocol was not to repeatedly confront confused elderly people with unpleasant truths. It’s just not worth the pain they will endure, they will only forget again, in this case it does appear benign lies are the compassionate way to go.

An anecdote to lighten up a grim topic.

Like other people described here, my grandmother succumbed to dementia in her old age. One question she often asked was where her father was and if he was okay. We would reassure her with general statements that he was okay.

One time, she asked my brother. And he said “Yes, I talked to him just last week and he’s fine.” And my grandmother looked at my brother and in a moment of lucidity said “You couldn’t have talked to my father last week. He’s been dead for eighty years.”

I used to attend a caregiver’s support group with a woman who took care of her mom with dementia. We became friends and I got to watch her interact with her on a regular basis. And it broke my heart. Her mom would say they should go visit some relative (dead for many decades and, even if alive, would’ve been several states away) and my friend would tell her, over and over, that this wasn’t possible because they’d already passed on. The sheer terrified look that would come over her face almost made me cry and it was for naught anyway. Hours later, she’d ask again and it was more of the same.

I tried talking my friend out of doing it that way, but she couldn’t be swayed. However, on a couple of occasions I got to stay with her while my friend ran errands and I had the opportunity to see if it would be kinder to just play along. Not only was it, but once she was satisfied (in like two seconds), she’d simply go on talking about something else more immediate, like who that was on TV or what was for lunch. Truly, it’s best not to upset them for no damn good reason.

Thanks everyone.
I think I’ll just try to placate her - she seemed satisfied when I said that Dad was on a trip, and would call when he could.

I worked in dementia care for two years and also went through this with my grandmother. I absolutely agree with this. There is no reason to cause unnecessary anxiety and distress. There is no reason to make people feel fresh grief over and over again. There is no value to honesty if there is nothing people can do with that information other than feel pain.

The only time we corrected people was when it would help them. For instance, we had one man who thought he was back in the concentration camps sometimes. Obviously, it was better to correct this.

When my dad was in a memory care facility, he often told me that my mom was somewhere nearby. I always told him that I would talk to her in a few minutes. She had died shortly before he went into assisted living. He also frequently thought I was his brother. I believe it was better for both of us for me to just go along with his thoughts. You just do the best you can. Every time I visited, I had to answer the question, “Who is paying for this hotel?”

When my father had Alzheimer’s, his normally insane temper became even worse. Every little thing would cause him to fly off the handle. Because of this, we had to constantly tell him whatever it took to placate him. Being truthful doesn’t serve any purpose in cases like this. And when we had to lock the doors to keep him from wandering outside, we told him it was to keep out intruders.

My grandmother was in a facility on the Hudson River in New Jersey. She had a great view of the Twin Towers. Until she didn’t. Apparently she either didn’t actually see them fall, or it didn’t register with her. I don’t know if she even noticed they were missing.

As far as I know, she never asked about it, so I guess it’s not directly relevant. The thread just brought it to mind.

After reading the comments and arguments of other posters here, I’m going to change my mind. I’m convinced that I was wrong to make this statement, and the rest of you are right.

I think it’s wise to separate the benign lies form the cruel. My Grandmother had severe Alzheimer’s and she was one of the best people to talk to about depression. She was religious but not to an extreme and it gave her a certain serenity that seemed to ease your worries if you brought them up. I think she liked to help as well…

That being said I never told her all her sisters were dead, it was always “they’re back in Minnesota.”

Another first hand experience. Visited an Uncle 3 years ago “in the home”. He kept asking me about a sibling who died a long time ago. I kept dodging the question but eventually an aunt finally told him the truth. He started crying.

Dodging the question more would have been better.

With people who are not ill, they are shocked at the news, and then they can begin to process the loss.

With Alzheimer’s, they don’t get to process, because they forget. So all they’re doing is being shocked over and over.

In this case, a white lie is not out of line, and is kinder.