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Therapeutic Lying in Dementia Care

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerMay 11, 2015

One woman shares how her grandmother with Alzheimer’s disease brought an imaginary boyfriend into their lives and how they learned to adopt her reality as theirs. Read about this supportive family and learn more about therapeutic lying in dementia care.

Therapeutic Lying and Dementia

A recent article in the New York Times shares the heartwarming, touching and very honest account of one family’s journey with Alzheimer’s.

In the article, author Deenie Hartzog Mislock shares that her grandmother believed that her daughter (the author’s aunt) had a boyfriend named Nick Stephanopoulos. She made up details about the relationship, including the trips they took overseas, the giving of extravagant gifts, and daily details about the relationship.

The family played along, engaging their loved one in conversation about a man who did not exist. Stephanopoulos became their reality as well as hers, in an effort to establish normalcy for her, mitigate agitation and avoid further confusion. The author eloquently states that “Nick Stephanopoulos offered us something to hold on to. He was the laughter born of our sorrow.” 

When the author’s grandmother sadly informed them that Nick only had three months to live, the family wondered what that meant for their future. A few weeks later, she passed away at hospice. Looking back on the whole affair, the author said that:

“Playing along with my grandmother kept us close to her, even as she was being taken from us.”

Adopting a Loved One’s Sense of Reality

Many caregivers and family members of people who have Alzheimer’s wonder what to do when their loved one makes up stories like the one told in the New York Times.

Families who are uncomfortable lying to a loved one can be hesitant to entertain extravagant stories, especially when involving another family member and can leave many caregivers in a moral conundrum.

The Alzheimer’s Association advises to avoid arguing with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s. Arguing will not often change their mind but can increase agitation and frustration for all. They also advise not to criticize or correct and instead to listen to the meaning behind what is being said along with focusing on feelings, not facts. 

Have you ever had a loved one with Alzheimer’s make up a story like the one above? How did you handle it?  Share your story with us in the comments below.

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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