Therapeutic Fibbing: Lying Isn't Always a Bad Thing

Therapeutic Fibbing: Lying Isn’t Always A Bad Thing


Most people can’t handle the truth, and processing the facts becomes even more difficult for assisted living seniors experiencing chronic neurodegenerative diseases. Even without diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia, the truth is sometimes unbearable. We see this played out with the many men and women who thrive off people that feed their egos or have an unhealthy addiction to flattery.

Instead of hearing the unbearable facts and constructive criticism, we condition ourselves for therapeutic fibbing. Fibbing to individuals helps them cope with their reality. However, outright lying is unhealthy and poses many risk factors. RAL caregivers must recognize the difference between therapeutic fibbing and unprofessional lying.


Therapeutic fibbing is a reliable way to engage seniors by stepping into their reality. It is a responsible method of agreeing or replying with responses that are not completely true to avoid causing distress. The goal of therapeutic fibbing is to say things that make seniors feel safe and comforted. Consider the example of one friendly co-worker. Therapeutic fibbing is similar to telling a co-worker that you love the thoughtful gift they gave you, even though you do not. The truth of the matter is you might appreciate the thoughtful gesture more than the gift itself. So, instead of responding with cruelty and criticism, you react with kindness and gratitude. Telling the absolute truth, in that case, doesn’t change the situation – it would only hurt your co-worker’s feelings.

While therapeutic fibbing will pose a variety of different scenarios in residential assisted living homes, the friendly co-worker example is the same principle. Gently going along with their reality and using secondary distractions will help foster a functional atmosphere. Unlike when people lie, professionals exercising therapeutic fibbing are not seeking to deceive or manipulate, but rather to avoid unnecessary distress. This method is especially effective amongst individuals with chronic neurodegenerative diseases.


Is honesty the best policy? Not always, especially not when it comes to seniors coping with chronic neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Individuals with such diseases experience a different version of reality based on how severely their brains are impacted. Dementia damages the brain. It causes a progressive decline in a person’s ability to understand and process basic information, the concept of time, and everyday activities. Attempting to force these individuals to abandon their version of reality can cause unwanted meltdowns.

Confusion, emotional pain, anxiety, fear, and anger causes people that are diagnosed with dementia to avoid engaging in real-world experiences. This is why therapeutic fibbing is strongly encouraged by dementia care experts. Some RAL caregivers might initially feel like they are lying to the residents. However, therapeutic fibbing empowers you to engage their current reality and avoid unnecessary upsets and prolonged periods of distress. These little white lies help. They validate the feelings of residents suffering from dementia and they have no malicious intent. Otherwise, caregivers run the risk of substituting cruelty with comfort and assurance.


Most adults remember the fictional childhood story of Pinocchio, a wooden puppet who dreamed of becoming a real boy. He is known for his frequent tendency to lie, which causes his nose to grow. The novel evolved into a cultural icon, adapted as a Disney film, reminding children of the consequences of lying. Children are often taught at an early age that lying is bad and disrespectful, especially dishonesty to their elders. This lifelong reinforced moral standard is why many RAL caregivers wrestle with the reality of therapeutic fibbing, even amongst residents diagnosed with dementia. However, there is proven research that shows why therapeutic fibbing works.

5 Facts About the Truth In Dementia Care

  1. Causes unnecessary distress
  2. Often misunderstood
  3. Difficult to process
  4. Will soon be forgotten
  5. Does more harm than good

Unfortunately, telling the truth to seniors with memory loss can be devastating, and causes them to relive past traumas and tragedies. The truth can be especially devastating about emotional subjects, but equally as disturbing about trivial circumstances. Dementia prevents people from properly processing and retaining information. It is important to remember that assisted living memory care residents will probably forget the conversation altogether.

As a result, after experiencing a breakdown or misunderstanding from hearing the truth, they will soon not remember what you said anyway – the truth will be soon forgotten. In this case, the truth does more harm than good. Telling the truth each time forces them to experience fresh distress over and over again. This repeated cycle would be cruel and vicious, and this is why caregivers are encouraged to use the practice of therapeutic fibbing.


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