Dementia and Lying: Understanding Your Loved One’s Behaviour

 In Blog

When a loved one is diagnosed with dementia, it can be a challenging and emotional time for everyone involved. As the condition progresses, you may notice various changes in your loved one’s behaviour, including what seems to be regular lying. This can be confusing, frustrating, and even distressing for both you and your loved one. However, it’s important to understand that lying in people with dementia is often not intentional and is instead a symptom of the condition.

In this guide, we’ll explore the reasons behind lying in people with dementia, discuss how to differentiate between intentional and unintentional lying, and provide practical tips on how to cope with this behaviour. By gaining a deeper understanding of your loved one’s experiences and the challenges they face, you can provide them with the support and compassion they need during this difficult time.

Is Lying a Common Symptom of Dementia?

Lying is a common occurrence among people with dementia, but it’s important to note that most individuals do not lie intentionally. Instead, they may use lying as a coping mechanism to cover up their difficulties with memory, confusion, and other cognitive challenges. In many cases, these falsehoods may be entirely accidental, and the person with dementia is simply mistaken rather than deliberately lying.

It’s not uncommon for people with dementia to tell elaborate tales that aren’t well thought out and quickly fall apart under questioning. This is because dementia can significantly diminish a person’s capacity for reasoning and logical thinking. Additionally, the inability to remember the true situation accurately enough to align the lie with it, or to anticipate potential questions, can make it extremely difficult for someone with dementia to concoct a convincing story.

Understanding the Difference Between Intentional and Unintentional Lying

To better support your loved one, it’s crucial to distinguish between intentional and unintentional lying. Intentional lying, also known as pathological lying, is a real condition in which a person tells multiple lies a day for no apparent gain. Some people habitually lie with purpose, and this ease of fibbing can be a sign of a personality disorder or even an indication that the person is on the autism spectrum. In these cases, lies may be part of masking, due to difficulty expressing real emotions, or as a means of relating to others and joining in a conversation that they otherwise feel unable to participate in.

However, in people with dementia, the reasons for lying are often linked to their memory problems and the challenges of living with the condition, rather than any malicious intent. By recognizing the difference between intentional and unintentional lying, you can respond to your loved one with greater empathy and understanding.

Reasons for Lying in People with Dementia

There are several reasons why your loved one with dementia may be regularly telling lies. Let’s explore some of the most common causes:

1. They’re telling what they believe is the truth

One of the most prevalent reasons for lying in people with dementia is that they genuinely believe what they’re saying is true. This can be due to several factors related to the symptoms of dementia:

Confusion

A hallmark symptom of dementia is difficulty with memory, particularly in forming and retaining new memories. When someone has memory problems, they may not only forget events or conversations but also experience a distortion in their recollections. The dates of events, people involved, and conversations had can become mixed up, creating a different timeline from reality.

Confabulation

Confabulation is a fascinating phenomenon that people with dementia may experience. It involves the creation of entirely false or distorted memories that feel very real to the individual. These confabulations occur when there are gaps in memory, which the brain subconsciously fills in with false information. For example, your loved one may vividly recount a conversation with a long-deceased relative, believing it to be a genuine memory.

Hallucinations and delusions

The damage to the brain caused by dementia can sometimes result in a person experiencing hallucinations and delusions. Hallucinations involve seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, or tasting something that isn’t actually there, but feels very real to the person experiencing them. Delusions, on the other hand, are false beliefs that have no basis in reality. In a person with dementia, delusions can arise from memory loss and confusion, with fragments of real memories merging to form a false narrative. If your loved one is experiencing hallucinations or delusions, they may be telling you what they honestly believe to be true based on their subjective experiences.

2. They are embarrassed that they can’t remember the truth

Living with memory issues and other symptoms of dementia can be incredibly damaging to a person’s self-esteem. No one wants to feel like they can’t get anything right or that they are boring others by repeating themselves. In telling fibs, your loved one may be feeling embarrassed about their inability to remember the truth and attempting to cover up their struggles.

This behaviour can be driven by more than just saving face. Your loved one may be afraid of what might happen if they lose their mental capacity and, as a result, try to hide the extent of their difficulties to appear more capable and independent than they truly feel.

3. They are hiding the truth

In some cases, the person with dementia may be lying to save face because they do remember what really happened but are embarrassed to admit the truth. As mentioned earlier, memory problems and other symptoms of dementia can take a toll on self-confidence, and your loved one may be trying to conceal their true experiences.

For instance, they may claim the shop was closed because they are embarrassed about forgetting their purse, or say that the bus didn’t arrive because they don’t want to admit they got confused and boarded the wrong bus.

It’s also possible that your loved one is hiding the truth about how their condition affects their daily life for your sake, as they don’t want you to worry or spend your time helping them. They may even believe they are telling you what you want to hear.

If your loved one is struggling and lying to hide it, they may also be reluctant to accept professional help or support due to fear, pride, or even financial concerns. In these situations, it’s essential to approach the topic with sensitivity and understanding, emphasising your desire to ensure their well-being and quality of life.

4. They are struggling with their mental health

In addition to damaging self-worth, the challenges of living with dementia can lead to poor mental health. Lies can be indicative of a genuine feeling that the person is unable to articulate, either because they can’t remember exactly why they feel that way or because they struggle to find the right words (another common difficulty associated with dementia).

Dementia can also cause long-buried memories and emotions to resurface. If your loved one is feeling down or experiencing depression, they may dwell on sad events from their past, even if the details have become distorted or oversimplified over time. While the story they tell may not be entirely accurate, the emotion behind it could be very real, and your loved one may need support to express and process their feelings.

How to Cope with Lying in Somebody Living with Dementia

Dealing with frequent lying from a loved one with dementia can be emotionally taxing. It’s natural to feel frustrated, hurt, or even angry when you’re being lied to, especially if the person seems to genuinely believe what they’re saying and becomes distressed when you attempt to correct them. Here are some tips to help you manage this challenging behaviour:

1. Don’t take it personally

It’s easy to feel insulted when someone repeatedly lies to you, as if they think you’re gullible enough to believe their stories. However, it’s crucial to remember that in the case of a person with dementia, their brain function is genuinely impaired. They may not be able to control their lying (or simply mistakes) or may be using it as an indicator of real emotions or difficulties they are experiencing in their daily life and need support with.

2. Decide if it’s worthwhile calling them out on a lie

When dealing with a compulsive liar, attempting to call them out on their tales is often a waste of time and emotional energy, as they tend to defend their lies with further lies and rarely admit to the truth.

However, when it comes to someone with dementia, the decision to correct them is more nuanced. Constantly correcting every mistake or fib can significantly damage their confidence and cause stress that exacerbates their cognitive difficulties.

One approach to communicating with people who have dementia is called Validation Therapy. Instead of correcting a false statement, you validate the true emotion behind it. For example, if your loved one claims they spoke with a deceased relative, rather than pointing out the impossibility of the situation, you might respond with, “It sounds like you really miss them. Tell me more about your conversation.” By acknowledging and validating their feelings, you can provide comfort and support without challenging their perception of reality.

3. Help them find support

When your loved one is lying, it’s essential to consider the underlying reasons behind their behaviour. Their lies could be revealing a great deal about how dementia is affecting them and the struggles they are facing in their daily life.

Additionally, their lies may be indicative of their current mental health. They may be telling falsehoods in an attempt to connect with you because they are feeling lonely or lacking a sense of purpose.

In these cases, it can be beneficial to help your loved one find appropriate support for the underlying issue, whether that involves care services or mental health resources. Encouraging social interaction, engaging in meaningful activities, and fostering a sense of purpose can go a long way in improving your loved one’s well-being and reducing the frequency of lying.

Conclusion

Lying in people with dementia is a common and often distressing behaviour that can be challenging for both the individual and their loved ones. By understanding the various reasons behind this behaviour, ranging from genuine confusion and false memories to embarrassment and mental health struggles, you can approach the situation with greater empathy and patience.

Remember, your loved one is not intentionally trying to deceive you; they are coping with a debilitating and progressive condition that affects their cognitive abilities. By focusing on the underlying emotions and needs, providing support and validation, and seeking professional help when necessary, you can help your loved one navigate this difficult journey with dignity and compassion.

If you are considering care homes or nursing homes in Mansfield for your loved one with dementia, Lidder Care is here to help. Our experienced team understands the unique challenges faced by individuals with dementia and their families, and we are committed to providing the highest quality care in a supportive and nurturing environment.

Contact us today to learn more about our services and how we can support you and your loved one during this challenging time.