Bear with me – don’t judge me quite yet.
You are not destined for Alcatraz just because of a little well-placed dishonesty.
If you are primarily responsible for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or other dementia, or perhaps you assist an elderly relative who relies on you for help, do you find yourself telling little white lies? Do you stretch the truth a bit in order to keep the peace? Without doing any harm to your loved one or anyone else, do those little white lies help you accomplish tasks on behalf of your loved one, thus improving their life? Congratulations – you understand that honesty isn’t always the best route to take and you’re in good company.
How do you jump over the hurdles of negotiating with a loved one for whom you provide care? Here are a few examples that come to mind.
Scenario one: the need to get creative in order to leave the house for personal business. For example, if telling your wife that you’re going to a caregiver support group meeting makes her mad, sad, or distrustful of your intentions, (“I’m sure you’re going to say bad things about me!”), why not tell your spouse that you’re going out with the guys, and you promise you will be back in two hours. Then make sure you’re back on time! If you’re not comfortable with that lie, by all means, every month you can continue to explain how helpful this caregiver support group is to you and how much it helps you be a better husband; and month after month your wife will not understand your rationale and will feel ashamed. Knowing that you’re going to a support group only confirms how miserable she’s made your life.
Scenario two: Your aging widower father needs housekeeping/landscaping or cooking assistance at his house but he insists he can’t afford it. You personally know he can afford it because he turned over his bill-paying responsibilities to you and you’re a signer on his bank account. You won’t be able to convince your dad that he has enough money to last his entire lifetime, so simply tell him that you and your siblings are gifting him with the housekeeping and cooking service and would be hurt if he didn’t accept your gift. Then go ahead and arrange for the service, and pay for it with his funds – unless you and your siblings really do want to gift him with this ongoing service. Is that stealing? Not at all. You’re not enriching your own finances by allotting a certain amount of your father’s money towards his personal care. The outcome: a safer environment in which to live, and proper nutrition that he’s not able to provide for himself.
Scenario three: You keep your mom’s doctor appointment calendar and are also her means of transportation to those appointments. Do you tell her days and weeks in advance of those plans? If you do, be prepared for numerous phone calls in the interim: “When is it? What’s the appointment for? What time are you picking me up?” Instead of telling your mom of the future appointment, and even going so far as to writing it on her wall calendar, just show up and take her on an outing that just happens to include a doctor visit. You know your mom’s schedule; you know she’s going to be home – so just show up! Surprise!!! Time for some mother/daughter time.
You won’t end up here.
Criminal subterfuge or compassionate communication? White lies, stretching the truth, and withholding information does not qualify as sophisticated subterfuge – quite the opposite is true. Noted author and PhD, Pauline Boss, explains it this way (and I’m paraphrasing): Perfection isn’t the goal of the caregiver. What works at any given time, is perfect for that given time.
Let me explain by providing one more scenario: You and your wife have lived in Spokane, Washington your entire life and have never traveled outside of the U.S. Your wife, however, is convinced that you’ve traveled together to France, Italy, and Spain – even providing details about those adventures. Why not go along with the fantasy? Build on to the stories that she shares with you and reminisce about all those memorable times you spent together. Have fun with it! You won’t regret it.
Taking a walk with my wonderful Dad who died of Alzheimer’s, October 2007.
The Alzheimer’s Association has a motto: If you don’t insist – they can’t resist. As the person who does not have dementia, it’s far easier for you to adjust to your loved one’s reality, than it is for her to jump into yours. So set aside your pride – and perhaps your unhealthy need to always be right – and treat your loved one to a better way of communicating once the previous way no longer works.
You are really doing your loved one a favor by simplifying communications in such a way as to almost guarantee a successful outcome. But you need to do what you’re most comfortable with; but be assured that doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result is an exercise in futility that you most certainly can do without.