The term ‘therapeutic lie’ is a false statement or deception with the best interest of the patient at heart. Therapeutic lying is commonplace in caring for people with dementia and it is a dilemma that many caregivers and healthcare professionals struggle with.
Are therapeutic lies right or wrong?
- Some people think that telling a therapeutic lie is the right thing to do. They feel that it is easier, kinder and avoids upset which can lead to other challenging behaviours.
- Some people think that it is the wrong thing to do, that it is deceitful and disrespectful and cannot be justified.
- Finally there are those who think it is better to try and distract the person with dementia, or perhaps slightly bend the truth, rather than tell an outright lie.
Some caregiver may also worry that the trust that they have with the person living with dementia may be broken if they are ‘caught out’ by lying.
I personally had no problem with telling therapeutic lies to Mum. One example was when Mum used to ask me “have you seen my Dad?” which she did often. So rather than tell her that he had been dead for 30 years, I used to lie and tell her he had just nipped to the shops. She was always satisfied with this response and I know that if I told her he was dead she would have been upset and distressed.
If I knew I only had to tell her he had died once, and that she would remember, I would have considered being truthful but she asked me the same question every week and I personally could not see any benefit in causing undue upset, time and time again. I certainly didn’t feel as though I was in anyway being disrespectful.
In fact I used to do anything in my power to keep Mum happy and content. I used to basically agree with everything she said and seeing as though I very rarely had any idea what she was saying, technically I wasn’t lying!!.
Although I personally had no problem with lying to Mum (although I preferred to think of it as entering her reality, the one where her Dad was still alive), I knew Mum, knew what would upset her and what calmed her. I can however appreciate it may be more difficult to use therapeutic lies with someone you don’t know so well, when you’re not so sure of the reaction you may get.