Therapeutic Lying in Dementia Care

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 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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Please leave your thoughts and comments

  • Yvette Velazquez Bennett

    My Mom, who always hated any kind of outdoor activities, tells of these wild 3-day camping trip adventures. we allow these fantastical mental trips because it makes her dull days in the nursing home more enjoyable.

  • #7

    My dad passed away in July, 2014. He and my mom were married 64 years. My dad would visit mom everyday at the nursing home from 8:30-4:30. When I go to visit mom, she and her imaginary cat have “to go” because dad is waiting for her and she doesn’t want to keep him waiting. She scoots away in her wheelchair and carries on a conversation with dad. Hearing her laugh with her conversation with him sounds like old times. Maybe he is there!

  • Juanita

    My mom and her friends got into a debate about FLOTUS and whether she has “hips” or not. My mother chose to win the debate by sharing her proof, reporting she helped her get ready for the ball and saw her hips with her own eyes.
    More stories on my blog:

  • Ariete Pieterse

    How lovely to read this and know that our situation isn’t so different from others. My mom speaks of me in the past tense, as if re-telling my story to a stranger; however, a lot of her story isn’t my history at all and since I am her primary caregiver it’s surreal to listen to her discuss me (with me)…To hear her tell the story, I am some kind of hero..having accomplished all kinds of great things to the benefit of mankind…I usually let her tell and retell her story as she wishes to, as it creates too much confusion for her when I correct her. Besides, at least I’m the hero and not the villain in the story.

  • msdonna

    My Mum jS now been in the nursing home for 2 months, it was the last visit about a week ago that she started her new story of this new man in her life that is going to become her new husband, she’s like a teenage girl when she describes him, she’s so smitten

  • Anne Marie Browne

    Maybe she did have this boyfriend when she was very young, from my knowledge and experience Alzheimer patients have very good long term memory, my Mum has for sure but she is very confused and forgetful about the present!

  • @emmaleechase

    I have a family member who is in the early stages, and they will mis-attribute events or quotes to the wrong person. e.g. confusing names, places, dates, etc. You just have to go with it.

  • Teresa Yoder

    My mom has been in the nursing home for a bit over a month now. The hardest part is that she believes that my dad is still living after 24 years. She gets upset that he doesn’t come to visit. Just 2 days ago she wrote him a note and gave it to me to give to him. Today, I will be going to see her. I have decided that I am going to take my first scrapbook page in to her. It is a picture of her and my dad when they were dating. I am going to tell her that he and I are doing this project together for her. Since he isn’t good with computers (didn’t have any when he was living), I will do the computer work to put the pages together, with inspiration from Dad. I may have to forge his handwriting from time to time, but, if it makes her happy, I will do it.

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