Dear Donna,

Our elderly Mom tells us that she had dinner with our Dad, the only problem is that our Dad passed away fifteen years ago. When we remind her of that, she gets very upset. We don’t know how to handle this because we don’t want to lie to her. What do you think is going on here?

Dear Truth Seekers,

I am wondering what other behaviors your Mom is experiencing that have you stymied. Is she repeating questions, statements and stories in a short time? Is she forgetting to take medications, dressing inappropriately for the weather, having trouble making simple decisions? Has she been diagnosed with some form of cognitive impairment?

The memory of a person with cognitive impairment from some form of dementia changes due to changes in their brain. They are not making up stories, they are telling you what they are experiencing. Therefore, correcting them is not acceptable or advisable. It causes them unnecessary angst and creates power struggles. In a way, correcting them is like telling them they are a liar.

Allow your Mom to have her reality and understand that you have your own reality. Her reality may be based on deficits in her cognition. In other words, her reality is real to her and if it doesn’t fit in with current truth, it is not her fault, she cannot do anything differently.

Many caregivers say they don’t want to “lie” to their loved one, it’s a normal reaction. So, if you don’t want to “lie” to her, then use these simple rules. One, NEVER CORRECT HER. Instead, ask her open-ended questions such as, what was that like? If Mom truly does not have the memory of your Dad’s death, every time you correct her, she gets to re-experience it. That sounds awful, doesn’t it?

If you haven’t had Mom checked by a doctor, please consider taking her for an evaluation so you know better as to what diagnosis you’re dealing with and how it may affect her behavior. Perhaps there are medications that can help especially if she is having hallucinations that cause her fear. It will be helpful to all if you know exactly what is going on with her medically speaking.

And in the meantime, it sounds like you have a close relationship with her, so continue to love her and enjoy reminiscing about your Dad so you get to share the good memories together.

Latest posts by Donna Wrabel, LMSW (see all)