Telling white lies to people with dementia can be acceptable - research

Telling white lies to people with dementia can be acceptable - research

New research indicates that telling a person with dementia "a good lie" or a white lie to reassure them or ease stress can be ok - but blatant lying is not acceptable.

The study was conducted by researchers at NUI Galway and involved focus groups - three involving people with memory problems and another three with informal or unpaid carers.

It sought to explore the concept of lying from the perspective of people living with dementia in the community and their informal carers, stating:

"A common symptom of cognitive decline in people living with dementia, or people with memory problems, the cause of which has not yet been diagnosed, is the person repeatedly asking for loved ones who are deceased or making statements that are incorrect.

Carers are then faced with a dilemma - do they avoid and distract or ‘correct’ the person and tell the ‘truth’, or tell a lie.

The focus groups were drawn from dementia advocacy groups in the Republic of Ireland and from Dementia Northern Ireland, the Health Service Executive and from the Dementia Services Development Centre in Northern Ireland.

The study found that those who considered lying as acceptable made clear that it was only to be used to prevent the person becoming distressed. It also found that the stage of dementia, or the person’s awareness of their condition, was another critical factor. Carers also referred to ‘approaches to managing distress’ and ‘empathetic deception’.

Some interviewees admitted to having qualms about not always telling the truth. One interviewee said: "I’m unhappy to lead someone further into the fog all the time."

Some of the participants with memory problems and carers expressed concerns that telling a ‘white lie’ or ‘a good lie’ might cause mistrust or impact negatively on relationships.

"All participants considered that blatant lying with the intention to deceive and do harm is not acceptable," it said. "However, telling a ‘good lie’ or ‘white lie’ to alleviate distress was in certain circumstances considered acceptable."

It added that some informal carers said it may be acceptable for health care professionals to tell a ‘good lie’ or ‘small lie’ in certain circumstances but only if they ‘know the person’ and had considered informal/family caregivers’ wishes.

You can read the full report here.

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