By Kathryn Cherkas, MIPH
Program Manager, Friendship Center Montecito
If you are caring for someone with memory loss, you have surely made changes in your household as you embrace this new reality. And as we all know change is the only constant in life, more are sure to come. When you find a new way of doing things that works for your situation, think of it as a new tool for your tool kit.
One I find extremely effective is the use of fiblets, little fibs, or “therapeutic lies” for the greater good. Though we have all been taught from childhood that lying is wrong, fiblets are often the best answer when you find yourself wondering, “What is the kindest thing I can do or say for my loved one right now?”
Fiblets, a form of validation therapy, are not meant to mislead or deceive, but instead to provide a calming sense of assurance to someone in a state of confusion or frustration. Here is an example:
Jim is a 73-year-old gentleman living with a diagnosis of moderate dementia. Mary, Jim’s wife, brings her husband to a fabulous adult day center every day, but some mornings he is hesitant to go because of concerns over his schedule.
“I think I have plans with my father today,” he often says. Mary will reply something like, “Oh you know what—I spoke to Dad this morning and he is going to be busy with your mother today, so he asked to reschedule.”
In this situation, Mary leans into Jim’s reality, that of a younger man who had plans with his father. She could have told her husband the truth, that his father died several decades ago and Jim was wrong to think he had plans with him… but how would that help either of them? Mary answers her husband in a way that is not technically truthful, but is for the greater good of the situation.
The use of fiblets can be an extremely handy and adaptive tool in assisting loved ones through a confabulation, or misinterpreted memory disturbance, common in those with dementia. However, sometimes people struggle with being untruthful to their loved ones, and this is understandable.
Validation therapy includes other approaches, using humor and redirection to ease stressful situations. For example:
Jim: “I want to call my father now!”
Mary could say:
~What was your father like? Was he as handsome as you? *wink and walk away*
~Hey I want to see my father too, what do you think those guys are up to now?
~I remember dancing with your dad at that wedding a few years ago–he sure can move!
~What sort of food did he like? Let’s go make his favorite snack!
~He’s probably on a hot date with your mom, we will call him later
But AVOID saying:
~Your father is deceased, you can’t call him!
~Don’t you remember his funeral?
~No, I told you this yesterday!
Whatever your approach to supporting your loved one, attempt to remain calm and don’t argue with their reality or try to “talk them out of it.” Try leaning into the reality your loved one is experiencing and do your best to support them in the moment with your kindest and most loving intentions.