Is It Ever Okay to Fib to a Loved One Who Has Dementia?

Jacqueline Marcell Health Guide
  • Yes, when the honest answer may cause unnecessary pain and suffering. I believe that using a little white lie (which I prefer to call "Fibology") is often the kindest thing you can do.

    I remember very well the first time my sweet mother looked right at me and asked, "Where’s Jackie?"– because my heart broke in two. I tried to convince her that I was right there, it was me, but she looked so confused and said in a panic, "No, no, your little sister–where is she? Please, help me–I have to find her!"

    With a lump in my throat, for some reason I asked, "How old is Jackie now?"

    "Well, ummm, she’s almost ten. I’m so worried, where is she?"
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    Somehow I had the instinct to say, "Oh you know–she’s with Aunt Aggie and Uncle Roy up at the Boulder, fishin’ and campin’, and they are having a wonderful time. She’s safe with them."

    She instantly calmed down and beamed with delight, as I added details from our many camping trips with her six sisters and their families in Montana.

    Now the next day she knew me as her grown daughter and didn’t ask anymore about little Jackie (and I sure didn’t bring it up), and I was so glad I had eased her mind and didn’t make her suffer. Can you imagine being told you don’t have a ten year old, when in your mind you do?

    That was the first time I realized how important it was to just go-with-the-flow and live in the reality of the moment of two parents who’d go in and out of demented episodes. Why had it taken me so long to realize that logic and reason were never going to work?

    Years later, I find out there are books written about this method, "The Validation Theory", meaning you need to go behind the statement being made and validate where the patient is, agree, ask them to tell you more about it, acknowledge feelings, be there with them without correcting the facts and never thwarting what they believe to be true.

    Why hadn’t any of the many professionals who treated my parents taught me this? It is such a simple concept and had I known how to use it sooner I would have been saved so much heartache.

    I believe that families of dementia patients need to be taught this behavioral tool as soon as a loved one is diagnosed with dementia–and also given permission to lie, as it goes so against our grain to do so. Our instinct is to be honest and to correct the facts, so we need healthcare professionals to release our guilt and assure us that it is not only okay to use a little "Fibology"–it might truly be the right and kindest thing we can do.

    You can learn more about Jacqueline and find information about her book at
Published On: October 27, 2006