I don't want to lie to her.

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It’s amazing how often I hear people say this regarding a person with dementia. “I don’t want to lie to her.” This is a good policy normally, but it just doesn’t apply here. The phrase I use a lot is “embrace her/his reality.” That’s because the reality that he or she is living in isn’t OUR reality. You know this is true if you’ve ever tried to convince someone with dementia about something.
You: “Mom, this is where you LIVE now, you live here!”
Her: “No! I don’t, I was just home with you five minutes ago!”

Sound familiar? Everything you say, he or she doesn’t believe it. That’s because that person doesn’t live in our reality any longer. Your mom is positive that she doesn’t live in a senior care facility, and no one can tell her otherwise.

Picture this: you’re at work, and you’re just about to leave after a long day. You’ve packed up, and you’re headed out. A coworker stops you. “Uh, honey, this is where you live,” she says. “You can’t leave.” You’re angry, annoyed, and just tired. “No, I don’t, I’m going home,” you say. She pushes back, “No! Sit down! You live here!” It carries on like that for 30 minutes as she argues with you.

That would be insanely frustrating for you. Realize that this is what a person with dementia goes through on a regular basis. Instead of correcting, EMBRACE their reality. I met a husband of a resident who was having issues leaving the facility. “She gets really upset,” he said. The issue was that he kept saying to her, “I’m going home.” She would say, “Okay, let’s go!” Not realizing that she lived apart from him now. I suggested this instead:

Him: “Honey, I have to run to the store.”
Her: “Okay, I’ll come with you.”
Him: “I’m taking the truck and it’s packed with stuff. I can’t fit anyone else.”
Her: “Oh, okay. I’ll wait here.”

How much easier was that? No fight, no trouble, and all you had to do was be quick on your feet. It wasn’t a lie, because he’s embracing her reality. I’m also sure that he will go to the store at some point soon anyway.

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Rachael Wonderlin has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of two published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. She owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting company.

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