Senior Health

Is it Okay for Caregivers to Tell Little White Lies to an Alzheimer's Patient?

Martin Shreiber's therapeutic fibbing in My Two Elaines

One of the best-known proponents of therapeutic fibbing is Martin Schreiber, former governor of Wisconsin and author of My Two Elaines: Learning, Coping and Surviving as an Alzheimer’s Caregiver. He related an experience about his wife Elaine and her continually questioning him about her parents. Martin told her once that her parents were both dead. She was so shocked, devastated and stressed thinking she did not go to the funerals or say goodbye. The anxiety that the truth provoked was devastating and caused other health problems. However, when the questions came again, he let her know that her parents were very happy, and her mom was at church.

According to Schreiber, there is no advantage in constantly trying to correct a loved one. A fib can do much more good than harm. Schreiber tells one last and very sad story. Not that many years ago, he says, Elaine told him matter-of-factly, “I’m beginning to love you more than my husband.” He didn’t correct her, nor did he ask about her “turkey” of a husband. “I just grabbed that moment of joy,” he said.