Truth or Lies – The Great Reality Divide (Public article)

Public Article

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By Jane Verity ©

When you care for a person with dementia you are bound to experience situations that present challenges due to the resulting clash of your two different realities.

How do you respond when George tells you that his toy dog is sick?

Great confusion and uncertainty exists over when or whether to tell the truth or a white lie. I would like to explain and clarify here why neither of these approaches is desirable.

In the everyday care of people with dementia, two distinct response techniques are often used: telling the Truth as ‘it is’, or inventing a white lie.

Telling The Truth As ‘It Is’

If you tend to use this approach, it may be grounded in strong ethical beliefs and a conviction to always tell the truth.

When you are suddenly faced with one of the above situations, naturally you will tell the person what you experience as the truth about their reality. You will most likely have empathy for the person when you respond:

George, you don’t need to worry. Your dog is not sick. It is only a toy and therefore cannot feel any pain or discomfort.

If you’ve ever used responses like these in a similar situation, most likely you found that telling the truth did not elicit a positive result. On the contrary, it may well have broken the person’s spirit. Try thinking back to a similar situation and be really honest with yourself. What was the person’s reaction? Was it sadness, irritation, anger or aggression? Did the person call you a liar?

The Clash of Realities

The reason telling the truth does not work in these situations is due to the clash between your two realities. What you perceive as the truth does not match the perception of truth by the other person. This resulting clash may create tension.

White Lies

You may have been taught that it is OK to tell a small white lie to the person who can’t remember. At first glance, white lies can seem like a simple solution to difficult and challenging situations. You may have even had a positive experience in stopping certain behaviour – at least for a while. Sometimes too, the telling of a white lie can be seen as the most caring approach to ease the person’s pain.

Of course, you will show empathy and warmth in your voice when you respond:

George, what if you give the dog to me and I will take it to the vet for you?

However, if you’ve ever used a response like this one, most likely you will have experienced that though the white lie may stop the behaviour momentarily, the same behaviour almost always returns, sometimes even stronger and more persistently. The white lie may leave the person feeling manipulated, confused or angry.

Further reading

  • Truth or Lies – Crossing the Great Reality Divide Members article – Jane Verity (Learn about the DCA Reality Model & the differences in the realities of people with and without dementia. Discover why white lies do not work & practical & effective strategies –  Learn when telling the truth is appropriate. Learn the 5 steps to discovering the need/s behind a different reality for a person with dementia & 3 steps to eliciting a successful solution.)
  • Different Realities  – Community story – (Read Paddy’s testimonial & learn how Jane’s Truth or Lies article gave him perspective into a way of meeting the needs that lie between two differing realities and his new insight into his elderly mother’s ingenious way of telling him that she was feeling lonely.)