“Lie to my mom?”

Mom taught you to always tell the truth. But in the context of caring for someone with memory loss (dementia), honesty may not always be the best policy. There may be times when the kindest strategy—the one that reduces your loved one’s anxiety or fear—is to omit the truth or bend it a little. This is called “therapeutic fibbing.”16

When your loved one is distressed

Try distraction first. Put your relative’s forgetfulness to work for you by focusing his or her attention on something else. For instance, if your dad is persistently asking to see his mother, don’t bother explaining that she died decades ago. Instead, validate his emotions and meet him in his memories. “You want to see your mother. Tell me about your mother.” Shortly, change the subject, even move to a different room. Then lead his attention to a favorite activity.

Bend the truth. If distraction doesn’t engage his attention, you might say, “Your mother is visiting her sister and will come see you tomorrow.” Or, if he wants to drive to the store, rather than reminding him that he can’t drive and the car was sold, say, “The car is in the shop, Dad. It should be back tomorrow.”

Omit the truth. If mom gets fretful about going to the doctor, consider: Does she need to know that that’s where she’s going? Perhaps instead, go to lunch and then “happen” to stop by the doctor’s on the way back. Was anything—other than her anxiety—lost in her not knowing ahead of time?

Therapeutic fibbing may not immediately appeal to you. Simply know it is a proven technique for relieving distress and bringing a confused loved one back to a state of tranquility. The underlying principle is that your relative benefits more from feeling safe and calm than from knowing “the truth.”