In the field of memory care, there is a fierce debate around the question of honesty. Lying can, under certain circumstances, alleviate or avert distress in patients who are suffering from memory loss. But, on principle, many providers, patients, and family members don’t like the idea of deceiving patients who are in such a vulnerable position. Some care homes have strict no-lying policies.
But the New Yorker staff writer Larissa McFarquhar recently spent some time at a different kind of assisted-living facility that takes the opposite approach—The facility is one of only a few of its kind in the United States.” The Lantern, in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, is home to about forty patients who suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
The care staff at the Lantern are taught that, in some cases, lying to patients is kinder than telling them the truth. McFarquhar talks with Andrea Paratto, who helps train the Lantern’s staff. In a previous job, at a facility where lying to patients was against the rules, she had to remind a ninety-year-old woman that her mother was long dead. “She just started crying,” she tells McFarquhar. “I stopped right then and there and said I’m never doing that again. I cannot put somebody through that ever again.”
Some people argue that lying to patients undermines their dignity. But when it comes to patients struggling with dementia, McFarquhar says, there are other factors to consider. “Maybe something else should be the goal—I don’t know. Happiness? Autonomy? Or living your life as you want to, insofar as that’s possible.”