Lying to a parent with Alzheimer's disease... Is it ever ok?


#1

My 76 year old mother has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She still lives in a single home by herself. My father passed away 3 years ago and my sister and I have been pleading with her to move to a retirement community. She has stated that she will never move from her house.

Her mental condition is deteriorating rapidly, but she is still aware enough to insist that if anyone ever tries to put her in a home, she will get a lawyer. Over the past few months she has forgotten how to make coffee, forgotten how to use her thermostat in the house, repeatedly thinks that she is tallking to a live person when she gets a telephone answering machine, called her landscaper 7 times in one day (forgetting that she already called him) , gone to Mass on Friday and Saturday (thinking it was Sunday) and last week hired a man walking down the street to trim her bushes (who I later found out did prison time for murder) and invited him into her bedroom to “fix” her tv (which wasn’t broken).

She insists that there is nothing wrong with her and that the doctors are all “crackpots”. She is really an accident waiting to happen.

My sister and I (we have power of attorney) were able to get her name on the waiting list at a wonderful Catholic assisted living facility ( complete with an adoration chapel!) and we just received a call that they will have an apartment in the next few weeks. Our problem is that there is no way she will go willingly. Therefore, we were going to tell her that the water company found an unsafe condition in her house and have to turn off the water to fix it. We will then find her a place to live “temporarily”.

Even though we can’t reason with her and are doing it to protect her, I’m starting to have reservations about lying to her. I’ve been all over the Catechism and all I keep seeing is that lying is always evil and that one can never do evil in the hopes that good may come out of it. I see no exclusions for people who have diminished mental capacity. Is it morally acceptable to make up a story to protect someone and, if so, are there any Church documents that state it?

I would appreciate any advice and prayers that you can send my way. This has become a very agonizing situation.

God Bless,
Gary


#2

I think you should tell her the truth. After all, it’s her body that is ill and it will help her understand why she is not able to do things or remember things she once could, and it may give her a legitimate reason to save her pride and agree to move to the assisted living facility.


#3

Can’t give advice. But, I can pray for you and your family. I know how heart breaking this can be.


#4

[quote=Della]I think you should tell her the truth. After all, it’s her body that is ill and it will help her understand why she is not able to do things or remember things she once could, and it may give her a legitimate reason to save her pride and agree to move to the assisted living facility.
[/quote]

Della is wise. My suggestion is to not delve into the truth of her condition or your rationale. Instead, discuss the truth that you have been given power of attorney from her because she knows that you love her and only want what you think is best for her. And, in an effort to honor the trust she has placed in you and with much prayer, you have decided to excercise the responsibility she has given to you to move her into the facility. Speak to these truths that she will have a harder time disagreeing with as opposed to her condition as her opinion trumps yours in her mind. Then do it immeditately. Don’t let her stew about it or conspire to stop you. Within minutes of delivering the news, have the movers show up and move her stuff. You can tell her that if after she is there that YOU would decide that this wasn’t the best move, you’d move her back (this is true as you’d never keep her in a place that wasn’t best for her)

My mother and her siblings allowed their internal dissent about how best to execute her move and even if they should overrule my Grandma until so much time passed that her condition deteriorated such that her final step was quick and needlessly discomforting for everyone, especially my Grandma.


#5

[quote=gez722]My 76 year old mother has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She still lives in a single home by herself. My father passed away 3 years ago and my sister and I have been pleading with her to move to a retirement community. She has stated that she will never move from her house.

Her mental condition is deteriorating rapidly, but she is still aware enough to insist that if anyone ever tries to put her in a home, she will get a lawyer. Over the past few months she has forgotten how to make coffee, forgotten how to use her thermostat in the house, repeatedly thinks that she is tallking to a live person when she gets a telephone answering machine, called her landscaper 7 times in one day (forgetting that she already called him) , gone to Mass on Friday and Saturday (thinking it was Sunday) and last week hired a man walking down the street to trim her bushes (who I later found out did prison time for murder) and invited him into her bedroom to “fix” her tv (which wasn’t broken).

She insists that there is nothing wrong with her and that the doctors are all “crackpots”. She is really an accident waiting to happen.

My sister and I (we have power of attorney) were able to get her name on the waiting list at a wonderful Catholic assisted living facility ( complete with an adoration chapel!) and we just received a call that they will have an apartment in the next few weeks. Our problem is that there is no way she will go willingly. Therefore, we were going to tell her that the water company found an unsafe condition in her house and have to turn off the water to fix it. We will then find her a place to live “temporarily”.

Even though we can’t reason with her and are doing it to protect her, I’m starting to have reservations about lying to her. I’ve been all over the Catechism and all I keep seeing is that lying is always evil and that one can never do evil in the hopes that good may come out of it. I see no exclusions for people who have diminished mental capacity. Is it morally acceptable to make up a story to protect someone and, if so, are there any Church documents that state it?

I would appreciate any advice and prayers that you can send my way. This has become a very agonizing situation.

God Bless,
Gary
[/quote]

Why do you think you must lie to your mother? If she is not able to live safely on her own, then just tell her this and have the rest of the family tell her and her doctor and the lawyer. It is better to have her be really upset by the truth then to be decieved by a lie, even if she doesn’t have full cognition. Take your Mom there to see the facility, maybe she will like it. Also involve the social worker. This is not uncommon, and they will be able to direct you. I’m just talking from my heart, so that is how I feel, I’m not an authority. My prayers are with you also.


#6

Are there any other options available? Could a family member move in with her (or take her into their home) to help care for her? What about a live in caretaker?

If moving her to an assisted living facilty is your only option, then I agree with the others who encourage you to tell your mom the truth. It will be harder on both of you, but it really is the best way.

I imagine that your mom would feel very betrayed and hurt to realize that you had deceived her if you were to lie to her.

I know that she is going to feel betrayed and hurt that you are making the decision to move her into a home, but ultimately she will know that it is for her own good…and even if she never accepts it, at least you know.

Malia


#7

My mil was a saint. She was the nicest lady and I was happy to have her for my friend. But as she got older, she became disoriented. I would go to her house and find her unable to use the bathroom anymore. She was unable to make herself dinner. She couldn’t remember anything short term. There came the day where my husband and his sister had to take her to the hospital. She had to be carried out kicking and screaming. This was very traumatic for all of them.

After that, we lied to her. We told her things like ‘as soon as you are better, you will be going back home’. She accepted it and was peaceful. Of course, she never went back home. She went to a nursing home and then improved and went to assisted living. We kept up the lies. I believe it was the kindest thing we could do. Occasionally, her daughter would tell her the truth and that would lead to depression and incomprehension. It was better to live in ‘la la land’.

I would visit her and she would tell me about dead family members whom she had recently talked to…I would ask her 'how are they? and what are they up to?" She would answer with things that had happened in the past.

I think the most important thing is to be kind. Whatever that looks like. In our case, the lies made life more pleasant for my mil. I am glad we made her as comfortable as we could in her last years. I don’t regret any of it.

She will be gone one year this Halloween and we miss her.


#8

As an LPN who worked in a nursing home, during the 80’s and now, today the daughter of a woman suffering with this now I have quite a few tips, First and foremost-Don’t lie to her. Help her make the transition from home to nursing home/assisted living a smooth one. Make sure she has some things from home, pictures, a favorite blanket or even some places allow her favorite chair. Visit often, let staff know food likes and dislikes, TV programs they like, many older women love their “stories”-(soaps) Please very important let them know if she is a wander, they will put a little device on her ankle (similar to infants in the Nursery)-Many families are afraid that they will not “accept” if they wander, this is not true, if a place has this policy (no wanders) then you don’t want your relative there. Make friends with staff but also keep a watchful eye, visit at differnt times, (to often I’ve seen Nurse’s aide ignore a resident until say 5:30PM when they know her son is stopping by after work then they are all over her, fussing and he thinks they are attentive. I ended up writing them up with warnings but these types are the exception not the rule.)It is very hard on the whole family because I am now on the “other side” too, as a daughter and not the Nurse. Also find a support group, sometimes the facility has their own. God Bless You and your Mother


#9

We just recently placed my mom in a nursing home as she has Vascular Dementia and was no longer able to live with her family members. There are 8 of us so many of us alternated for the last 3-4 years with her, and she lived a few months in assisted living. I sympathize with you and your family. This is a tough, emotional road.
I could not believe that I had to lie to my mother! It was against everything; but it was also for her care and health. She becomes delusional and gets very emotional and agitated for various reasons–all imagined-- and we just walk her through them. Sometimes it is easy. Sometimes it is VERY difficult. But I will never get used to it.
We have had some great comedies with her also! Laughter has been the greatest thing (aside from prayer…) When she was leaving my state and flying north to another sister’s we had to almost “put” her in the car because she was refusing to go. We had a flight to catch, her luggage in one car, my baby strapped in in another car, and there she stood with her hand on the seat of the car and on the car door bent in! But she wasn’t getting in!!! We had to lie to her and tell her she was just going to my house. In that 30 min drive I ended up taking to the airport I talked to her about EVERYTHING but where she WAS going to. By the time we got to the airport I was talking like she was thrilled to be going home and like she had made all the plans herself. It worked!
Priceless difficult moments!!!

God Bless your family


#10

My heart goes out to you Gary. Unfortunately Alzheimer’s disease is a very different disease than any other. To an Alzheimer’s patient there is no more truth or reality. No matter how many times you speak the truth to your mother she will not remember it for long or she may even accuse you of lying. I don’t think the posters that say tell the truth has ever lived with someone with Alzheimers otherwise they would not advise you to constantly tell the truth because it will only cause her pain and heartache… and that is cruel to someone with Alzheimers… she will never understand. If you are uncomfortable with lying then change the subject or use distraction. Her memory and lack of reasoning will only get worse.

My grandmother had Alzheimers, lived at home for a while until she no longer recognized it as home (she had lived there more than 40 years) and kept trying to leave. She did not recognize her husband of 60+ years. We needed to move her to a nursing home with a locked unit. At first she thought it was a hotel. Every day she would ask for her mother. At first (because we did not know better) we told her the truth that her mother was dead… she then grieved as though being given the news for the first time. We learned that it was better to skirt the truth and even lie than to see her cry and cry and cry reliving her mother’s death every day, sometimes twice a day. (Instead we would just say that we hadn’t seen her mother today which was the truth.)

You will truly need to speak with experts in the new place. Assisted living will not last for long and she eventually will need to go to a locked unit and then to a nursing home. Wandering off is quite common for these patients. I also advise you strongly to seek out a support group specific for Alzheimers families. Alzheimer’s disease has a way of affecting more than just the patient.

You and your family will be in my prayers…

Holly


#11

[quote=hollybc] I don’t think the posters that say tell the truth has ever lived with someone with Alzheimers

At first (because we did not know better) we told her the truth that her mother was dead… she then grieved as though being given the news for the first time. We learned that it was better to skirt the truth and even lie than to see her cry and cry and cry reliving her mother’s death every day, sometimes twice a day. (Instead we would just say that we hadn’t seen her mother today which was the truth.)

Holly
[/quote]

I don’t think anyone here has suggested that you always tell an Alzheimer’s patient the truth. Your above example of your grandmother reliving her mother’s death is a good illustration of when to lie or omit the truth.

We are responding to the OP’s specific situation about having to move mom into an assisted living facility.

I can’t imagine being in that situation, and my prayers go out to anyone having to deal with an ailing parent.

Malia


#12

[quote=Feanaro’s Wife]I don’t think anyone here has suggested that you always tell an Alzheimer’s patient the truth. Your above example of your grandmother reliving her mother’s death is a good illustration of when to lie or omit the truth.

We are responding to the OP’s specific situation about having to move mom into an assisted living facility.

I can’t imagine being in that situation, and my prayers go out to anyone having to deal with an ailing parent.

Malia
[/quote]

I did, in my post,as an LPN who used to work in a nursing home and now as a daughter, I told her never lie, plus gave several tips on adjustment, if I think of more I will.


#13

You cannot reason with an Alzheimer’s patient. Always divert never try to reason. There are hardly any times that you would have to lie or tell the truth. Just change the subject or project when they get upset. I am into my second decade as a caregiver. I am very good at diverting. You should look at all possible ways to keep her in her own home. They always do better there. I moved in with my mom and the progression is slow. I know others that moved in with their moms and they also have slow progression. Live ins can be hired. Aides can come in. Its never impossible.


#14

I agree with hollybc that it is a much different situation when you are dealing with someone with Alzheimer’s disease as opposed to someone else who simply cannot care for themselves but still have their mental faculties.

Both of my in-laws have Alzheimer’s. It is a very difficult disease to deal with. If your mom is in the “belligerent” stage, nothing you say will sit well with her. If she’s still enough aware to know she has the disease, then maybe you can catch her in one of her clearer moments to talk with her, otherwise you might just set her off by telling her the complete truth.

You can tell her you are worried about her safety (such as the man she invited in her house) and you’d like her to try this new place for awhile so she can have some help with meals, medications, etc.

We had a horrible time with my in-laws and telemarketers who took advantage of them. This is another concern for your mom. My in-laws were also doing a lot of things that were unsafe and dangerous and we were worried they’d burn the house down or hurt someone else because they were so defensive. My MIL actually pulled a gun on my FIL (hers progessed more quickly than his) because she thought he was a stranger in her house.

You cannot reason with people in the later stages of the disease, so you just do what’s best for them with the least resistance possible. Diversion is a great tactic. Also my FIL thought he was just visiting others at the home and they let him stay there awhile. It made him happy and less agitated, so we just agreed with him “Oh, isn’t that nice?!”

I wish you the best with this transition. It is a difficult time for everyone, and in many ways you are already grieving for the loss of your Mom because she is so different now from the Mom you remember. May God bless you and strengthen you and all your family.


#15

I can’t thank you all enough for your replies to this thread. The Lord has spoken very clearly to me through all of you. I spoke to my pastor today and he agreed that I should tell my mother the truth. My wife also spoke with my mother’s pastor and he not only agreed, but offered to come with us when it’s time to tell her.

It scares me to think how close I came to taking the easy way out and lying to my mother about this. Fortunately, I consulted the Catechism before doing anything. It makes me appreciate how blessed we are to have such a wonderful document to guide us. My sister said she will go along with this, but she still feels it is more compassionate to lie to her. She is a nurse and feels that you need to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Even though she is Catholic, she feels that “the rules” don’t apply to the “real world”. Unfortunately, that is the case for many Catholics (even myself until a short time ago) and there is much teaching that needs to be done. I have to go easy with her right now, but this will be an excellent evangelizing opportunity at some point. In reality, the teaching of the Church MUST be applied to every day situations.

Thanks for all of the kind replies and for letting the Lord speak through your replies. It will be difficult, but I am at peace. Please keep us in your prayers and I will post again once I know more.

God Bless,
Gary


#16

[quote=gez722] My sister said she will go along with this, but she still feels it is more compassionate to lie to her. She is a nurse and feels that you need to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Even though she is Catholic, she feels that “the rules” don’t apply to the “real world”.
[/quote]

Well, you know your own personal situation better than we do; and I trust that your priest gave you good advice.

I agree with your sister in some respects, depending on how mentally impaired your mother is. For a mentally impaired person, “truth” and “lie” may have no real meaning. As hollybc mentioned, when she told her grandmother the ‘truth’ that her mother was dead, it caused her to grieve over and over again each time she was told. Sometimes, insisting on “the truth” when the truth has no meaning to the person to whom you are speaking, may be morally meaningless. Sometimes we need to deal with the moral categories, and the needs, of the patient, not the caregiver.


#17

[quote=JimG]Well, you know your own personal situation better than we do; and I trust that your priest gave you good advice.

I agree with your sister in some respects, depending on how mentally impaired your mother is. For a mentally impaired person, “truth” and “lie” may have no real meaning. As hollybc mentioned, when she told her grandmother the ‘truth’ that her mother was dead, it caused her to grieve over and over again each time she was told. Sometimes, insisting on “the truth” when the truth has no meaning to the person to whom you are speaking, may be morally meaningless. Sometimes we need to deal with the moral categories, and the needs, of the patient, not the caregiver.
[/quote]

Jim,
Thanks for the input. The Catechism does allow for omitting the truth in certain cases. Causing an unbalanced person undue grief by revealing that a loved one has died may be such a case. As for dealing with the moral needs of the patient, we still need to follow the teachings of the Church. I’m not implying you’re advocating any of these positions, but I’ve heard this rationale with mercy killing (“It’s not compassionate to let this person live like this. It’s no quality of life”), abortion (" It’s not compassionate to bring a handicapped child into the world"), in-vitro fertilization (“Why wouldn’t God want me to have children?”), same-sex marriage (“What does it matter if to people love each other and they’re not hurting anyone?”), etc…

According to the Church, the teaching on lying is not subjective:

***2482 “A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving.”*280 The Lord denounces lying as the work of the devil: "You are of your father the devil, . . . there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies."281

*2483 Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error. By injuring man’s relation to truth and to his neighbor, a lie offends against the fundamental relation of man and of his word to the Lord. *


***2484 The gravity of a lie is measured against the nature of the truth it deforms, the circumstances, the intentions of the one who lies, and the harm suffered by its victims. If a lie in itself only constitutes a venial sin, it becomes mortal when it does grave injury to the virtues of justice and charity. ***

2485 By its very nature, lying is to be condemned. It is a profanation of speech, whereas the purpose of speech is to communicate known truth to others. The deliberate intention of leading a neighbor into error by saying things contrary to the truth constitutes a failure in justice and charity. The culpability is greater when the intention of deceiving entails the risk of deadly consequences for those who are led astray

The Church’s teaching actually makes it easier for us by removing the subjectivity. Even though I’m now faced with a difficult task, I know that what I’m doing is morally acceptable. There’s no guesswork involved.

God Bless,

Gary


#18

It is not compassionate to lie to the patient - it is convienent for the caregiver. Big difference.

From my personal been there done that experience. Don’t lie. Be honest. There will come a point when she doesn’t remember it anyhow, but at least you will have a clear conscience.

It is natural for your loved one to be scared and in denial. I know I would be! Do not compound it with lies. Do what must be done to care for her with love and respect. (It’s never respectfull to lie to someone!) There will come a time when you will have to deal with her anger, fear, tears, and heartache - do so honestly in a no nonosense manner. Much like with a 2 year old.

I recommend taking her pastor and lawyer, if you think that will make an impact on her. Go with her for a second opinion if it would help.

God bless.

ETA: I also think it’s okay to just remain silent. Not every comment they make needs an answer and in the next second they are on to something else anyhow. My grandma used to hold entire conversations with people who weren’t even there or even alive anymore - we all just talked around her or listened. It was very educational at times!:wink:


#19

I work as a pharmacist in a nursing home setting. I am certifed in geriatrics and board certified in psychiatry. I think it is important to take each situation individually. If your mother will have to grieve over the same thing every day it can be traumatic. It is so important to understand people with dementia have a brain disease. People with pronounced heart failure can’t run a 10K, nor would we ask them to do so. People with dementia have a broken thought process. It is simply not possible to ask them to live in our world. The process is also ever changing. Prayer and humor can carry you far in dealing with this difficult illness. I always tell my students that dementia is a family illness. Follow your instincts and understand that not every decision will be the right one. When I get a chance, I share prayer with some of my patients with dementia. It’s awesome. We will add you to the list.


#20

For your own sake if nothing else, tell her the truth: “Mom, your house is not safe for you anymore. We had to take you someplace safe. Is there something from your place that you want here?”

It is like if she starts asking where your father is. It is jarring (and cruel, really) to keep reminding her, “Mom, Dad is dead.” Instead, you say, “Mom, Dad isn’t here right now. Can I help you?” If she says she is going to call her lawyer about getting her house back, you can say, “Mom, your lawyer can’t help you right now. He can’t make your house safe for you, and that is the problem.” or simply “Mom, I know this is very upsetting, but your lawyer can’t talk to you right now.”

The idea is to deal with the feelings that she is dealing with, rather than the topic.

If she complains that she wants to go back home, it is okay to offer sympathy, as if she lost the home in a fire and not to dementia: “I can’t imagine how hard it must be to lose your home. I wish you could be back there again, but it isn’t safe. We can get things out of there for you, though, if you’d like us to.” Then whatever you do, do not take her back home. If she asks pointedly what is wrong with her home, you can say quite truthfully, “There is a chance of a fire, and what is wrong can’t be fixed. I’m really sorry, Mom, but we’d be worried sick to leave you there another day. If anything happened, we’d never forgive ourselves.”

It is okay to fall back on the explanation, “It is too hard to explain. If I could explain the problem to you, you’d agree, but I don’t know how to explain it. Dad would agree, too. It just isn’t safe.”

As already mentioned, your mom has a brain disease. If you haven’t done so already, read up on how to care for and communicate with someone with dementia. It will save your own sanity. My mom has dementia, too… my heart goes out to you.


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.