The majority expect their doctors to be honest with them at all costs. So you can imagine the reaction when recent research revealed that 70% of medics admitted to lying to their patients. Some of the lies involved telling patients that their partners were alive, when they knew they were in fact dead.
For most of us this comes across as unacceptable. But would you change your view if you found out that the medics questioned were specialists in dementia? When dementia nurses in particular were asked if they lied to patients, 98% said they had.
For many dementia sufferers, in particular those with Alzheimer’s, their short-term memory fades but they retain memories of the distant past. For sufferers, being in what they consider to be an unfamiliar environment filled with strangers can make life seem like a series of distressing events.
The lies carers, nurses and doctors tell are often brief reassurances intended to pacify and swiftly change the subject. When the results of this research were published, the Alzheimer’s Society condemned the practice and George McNamara (head of policy) said:
“Good quality care should be about identifying and addressing these causes rather than encouraging people with dementia to live in a false reality.”
Whether or not lying to dementia sufferers is right or wrong is still up for debate, but it is obvious that the practice cannot be dealt with in absolute terms. To some, making an elderly woman deal with the death of her husband over and over again by telling her the truth is considered cruelty – to others it is a necessity.
To find out more about the disease and how counselling can help both the sufferer and those close to them – please see our fact sheet on Dementia.
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