5 Comments

Can you Tell When your Demented Parent is Telling the Truth?

My brothers visited and disabled my parents cars. They had their licenses revoked due to their medical condition, but continued to drive. We felt we didn’t have any choice but to take this action to keep them and others safe.

Even before this happened, my mom knew they shouldn’t be driving and would give me a reason why they were leaving the retirement community, where they should be living full-time, and driving to their  townhouse.

Over the course of a month, my mom told me seven different times that they had to get to the townhouse for a home owners association meeting.  The seventh time she told me this, I challenged her story. It didn’t seem reasonable that they were having seven meetings over the course of one month. I was convinced she was making up all these meetings to defend their trips.

A day after I challenged her story, she invited me to the next meeting. First it was on Tuesday, then Wednesday, then Thursday. I asked her for the president’s number so I could call to understand what was happening.

While my mom has trouble managing the day and was struggling with when the meeting was going to happen – they had held 4 meetings in the past 4 weeks.

Yeah, she was telling the truth.

If you aren’t around a person with dementia, in the moderate stage (at least for my mom), they will tell you stories that are confabulations. The story seems reasonable, and if you had not spent time with them to know, you would have no idea what they are telling you isn’t factual.

The only way I have found to know when my mom is telling the truth versus giving me a confabulation is to spend the day with her. I’ve moved beyond my disbelief.

Now my mom is in the habit and calling me to tell me why they are going back to the retirement community. It’s always a doctor’s appointment.

I’m no longer interested in knowing the truth as much these days. Indifferent.

If you have suggestions, please share them.

5 comments on “Can you Tell When your Demented Parent is Telling the Truth?

  1. Not sure what to say, as feel you mostly need a huge hug so I’m sending you a bundle of love and hugs through cyberspace. xoxoxoxox

    What I can say is that maybe as you let go of what is your truth and accept your mom and dad’s ‘new truth’, it will get easier. They are not intentionally lying, but confabulating some of the time, and I suspect (from personal experience) desperately trying to hang onto their old selves. With dementia, when we have insight, it becomes imperative we hide what is happening, not just to others but to ourselves as we feel ashamed and frightened. The fear of our future, our changed relationships, and the grief of losing ourselves becomes so intense that at times we simply want to hide what is happening. To give in to it is way too terrifying. Your parents are also suffering loads of grief about losing their home, their cars and licenses, and so on.

    I went to a workshop last week which highlighted this. We were asked to write down the 6 things we valued most and share it with the others at our table. Then we were asked to delete the 2 least important. Then we had to give our list to the person on our right, and they deleted another 2. Then we had to pass our our list with the remaining 2 most valued things in to the facilitator. She then ripped them up and threw them in the bin. Everyone (except me) felt utterly devastated. This is what it feels like with dementia, and probably why my list was so simple as I have already lost many of the things the others had on their list, like driving. I hope this helps.

    ps. My 6 most valued things were independence x 3, and being able to make my own decisions x 3! Also, I was the only person there with a diagnosis of dementia.

  2. Thank you Kate! This cannot sit in “comments” and I will turn this into today’s post. xoxoxo right back!

  3. […] have been struggling to understand my mom’s confabulations. I asked for suggestions and Kate Swaffer came through again in spades! Kate has been diagnosed […]

  4. […] we were with the doctor last week, I broke down in tears when I admitted that we are considering suing our parents for guardianship. […]

  5. My mom confabulates too. She remembers things in precise detail (which alone tips us off). I understand that our human brains, or at least our left hemispheres, need a narrative, and that it struggles to concoct one when it encounters gaps. Her stories are often amusing (deliciously so, during the rare moments when she has admitted/accepted her impairment and can be included), sometimes wild (things my parents would never, ever do), occasionally surreal (as in defying the laws of physics), and frequently plausible – but false.

    It’s hard to know when to correct her. My rule of thumb is to let her statements go unchallenged unless they are apt to set her on a course of action that is risky or will likely result in an adverse event. Perhaps this has left an impression over time, because she has started incorporating external validation. She routinely says my father – or most often, “somebody” – said or did something. My father is a good bet, because, not wanting to upset her, he rarely contradicts even her loopiest statements. She treats this as confirmation and tells me I’m misinterpreting, or that I’m missing key facts (which of course she can never supply), or that I’m believing people’s lies.

    Often her fictitious memories scramble her – somewhat accurate – version of real events with dreams, usually daytime dreams. If, upon awakening, she is able to describe her dreams (which she remembers extraordinarily well) to another person, he/she can sometimes point out parts of her dreams that mirror reality.

    Unlike my siblings, I believe her judgment is not inherently THAT awful. If the things her brain is telling her were true, her conclusions wouldn’t be that far off the mark.

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