Alzheimer's Foundation of America

Question: My mom has Alzheimer's. Sometimes I tell a white lie to avoid an argument about taking her to the doctor. It really helps, but I feel so guilty about it -- is it ever OK to lie?

Answer: Resistance to going to a doctor is not uncommon among people who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. They may have come to associate medical doctors with demanding procedures, tough news, many pills, or worse. In any case, persons with dementia thrive on routine and a change in routine is involved. Your mom is being asked to leave the place in which she feels most safe—her home.

You may want to get into a routine of having your mother accompany you when you run errands. You can then try adding a medical appointment to that routine. If that is successful and she needs another appointment, try scheduling it as part of your already established routine.

While we would never encourage people to lie, the benefits to your mom of a “therapeutic fiblet”-- telling her you are going to do errands but omitting the part about the doctor—should outweigh the harm that we normally associate with lying. Perhaps your feelings of guilt will be diminished when you know that your “white lie” was conveyed only to help her and that you are in good company—thousands of other responsible caregivers make similar decisions for the benefit of their loved ones. The consequences of not taking her to the doctor could be quite serious for her. Also, arguments are a setback to her stability and should be avoided when possible.

When you are ready to go out with your mother, be kind but firm. Inform her, rather than ask her, that you are going out. Smile, and tell her in a warm and loving manner. Bring things with you that will comfort her, such as snacks, water, and something familiar that she likes, such as her favorite muffler or some portable activity that she likes. Allow enough time to do all that you need to accomplish to reduce your own stress.

Planning ahead, doing things slowly and lovingly, and keeping your mother’s day as structured as possible will support your objective of getting your mother to the doctor.

For more information, please go to the Alzheimer's Foundation of America website.

Top Tip

Avoid caregiver burnout. Make time for yourself. Join caregiver support groups. Pursue interests beyond your caregiving role, such as exercise, hobbies, journaling and art.

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