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Should we correct mom when she talks about things that aren’t real?

My mom talks about totally unrelated topics, do we engage in the conversation or tell her its not real?My mom has mild dementia and sometimes she says things that just aren't true, like her ex-son-in-law was just on the porch making a lot of noise (didn't happen). Do we just go with the conversation, or try to explain that he was not there?
Status: Open    Feb 25, 2015 - 09:51 AM

Dementia, Caregiving

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Expert Answers

Mar 05, 2015 - 08:23 AM

One of the principles we hold up here at The Fremont Memory Care is the Alzheimer's Association's best practice when dealing with memory loss: "Live in their world."

In terms of communication, this means that, as caregivers, we strive to understand and live in each resident's time, place and experiences. We rarely contradict a resident and we respect their memories as they remember.

Naturally, one of the skills that you will develop as a caregiver is the "fib," sometimes called "fiblet," or "white lie". As caregivers, sometimes we have to be creative about explaining the un-explainable. In your example, for instance, I might respond with "it's ok, he is just fixing a couple things for you today." Whatever your answer, there are two important pieces to the response to keep in mind: 1) Reassure your mom that everything is ok and/or is going to be ok, and 2) Create a plausible explanation so to minimize anxiety/fear.

Explaining that someone or something is not there is the last thing you want to do with anyone dealing with memory loss. Think of it as an example in your own life: I ate bacon this morning, and if someone tried to tell me that I didn't, I would think that person was crazy - not that I have a memory deficit. The same is true of everyone with memory loss because those "fabricated" memories aren't lies. They are, specifically, formed as memories in the brain to fill the deficit of lost time and in that process they become real.

I encourage you to pursue further reading on the topic by researching cueing, redirecting and Alzheimer's "fibs". Remember that your mom is unique and you will have to develop your own communication skills with her memory loss and current reality. You will find that there are times when a fib is the correct tactic and others where honestly is the best policy.

Below are a couple links that I hope you find helpful. Keep in mind that most of the resources available will speak relatively clinically about the subject:


Comments (3) | New Comment

By pamkirkwi on Jun 11, 2016 - 07:22 AM | Like (0)  |  Report

"That's great that he was here! He must have been fixing some of those old boards on the porch. Now let's see if the Nascar race is on TV." That's the no-fuss way to manage the situation. In her mind, he really was out there! So just go with that.

By keshoji on Jun 11, 2016 - 09:17 AM | Like (1)  |  Report

Thank you for asking and responding to this question. I have been wondering how to handle such a situation with my mom as well as wondering why she insists something happened that did not happen. This explanation makes sense and provides me with a good coping strategy.

By Bless Caregivers on Jun 12, 2016 - 07:40 PM | Like (0)  |  Report

Thank you for this wonderful information, so easy to comprehend and love the permission giving. When I took on my caregiving role to my elder brother with ALZ 5 years ago I could have used your feedback. Being inexperienced, I pride myself now, I made so many mistakes in conversing with him. It took me time to realize his loss of filtering, so, saying what he feels like can be his normal, I now know it's better to just ignore any negativity, switch gears to positive, "What a beautiful day." I know I won't win battles or change his mind either. I go along with whatever he says, giving him space and time when needed. His conversation is becoming limited, but he is very visual, if a question is asked to engage him his answer is usually something he spots, that's ok I go with it, easier for him and I'm glad he's trying, wanting to. Early on the fibs didn't work, he'd challenge them, which caused agitation, now I can use them, they have been a lifesaver, just need to let go of the old guilt feelings. As you mention, "living in their world," can make caregiving so much easier, less stressful, better for everyone. I also remember being advised regarding conversation that sometimes less is better, keep it simple. This may hold true to many things, we just have to remember it's ok. Thank you again, great question and answer, caregivers always learning!

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APFM Staff Answers

Mar 05, 2015 - 06:13 AM

In your mom's mind, her son-in-law on the porch was real. If you try to keep in mind that your goal is to help her be as peaceful and joyful as she can be, just as you would for someone who is dealing with a physical issue, then it is easy to know what to do in situations like that. If you tried to correct her, you would more than likely enter an argument that you won't be able to win. So, agreeing and then redirecting her to another topic will allow her to be in a more peaceful state of mind. It is tough, and might even get harder as the disease progresses. However, practice doing this and it will be come second nature for you!


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Feb 27, 2015 - 05:43 PM

The worst advice I have ever been given was to be honest with my mother regarding her parents, grandmother and husband (all deceased). I was to tell her whenever she inquired about any of them to be honest and say they had died. Well I broke my mother's heart a few times and genuinely. It was as if it was the first time she had heard it. Well it broke my heart and I deeply regret it. As for other issues that are not real but real to her, I just go with it and try to gently distract her with other things. Be gentle is all I can say.


Feb 27, 2015 - 06:58 PM

My mother was really crying one morning and found out the tv was showing an anniversary show on the Pearl Harbor attack. To her it was not history but was happenig now. But after we had been visiting about ten minutes she had forgoten it.

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