What to Do If Your Aging Parent Starts Lying: 11 Tips

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Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and National Master Guardian Emeritus

How can the person who raised you and taught you the values you live by start to lie? If you experience your aging parent lying, it can be confusing and frustrating. You might feel hurt and wonder how you can tell whether they are telling the truth. Why is this happening?

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Not every situation where a parent lies is the same. But, there are similarities and common factors that contribute to a parent lying. Your first response might be anger and disbelief. How are you to evaluate what your parent’s needs are if they are lying?

Responding to perceived emergencies that turn out not to be true can be time-consuming and stressful. Understanding why your parent might be lying is the first step to solving or at least coping with this problem. In time, you will differentiate between lies and the truth so that you don’t overreact.  Support and respect for your parent should be the foundation of dealing with this problem.

Why Might Cause an Aging Parent to Lie?

There are usually legitimate reasons a parent lies. Some can be moderated, and others can’t. Knowing the causes will guide your approach and help you change what you can and accept what you can’t. 

Dementia

If your parent has dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, they may lie or confabulate. Dementia is a complex and not completely understood neurological disorder. As the disease progresses, lying can get worse. Let’s look at the possible causes and types of lying that can occur when someone has dementia.

Confabulation

Confabulation is a disorder that is caused by dementia. Confabulation is not entirely understood, but there is speculation that a person with dementia attempts to fill in the gaps of missing memory.

For example, your parent might say that someone came to visit when they didn’t, or they make up conversations that they have with a person. They may have distorted perceptions about memories and make things up that didn’t happen. Lies about you and your family can be painful and your efforts to correct your parent’s lies don’t help. 

Paranoia

Many, but not all people who develop dementia start to express paranoia. Paranoia is a fear of people who are close to them- you and other caregivers.  The unfortunate consequence of paranoia is that your parent may accuse you or other people of stealing or abusing them.

It is not uncommon for a person with dementia to blame a caregiver of theft. Although rare, theft can occur with professional caregivers, so it can be challenging to sort out these accusations. You may feel obligated to investigate every allegation.

Delusions

Delusions are firmly held beliefs that can be benign or dangerous. Your parent could develop a delusion that someone is coming into their room at night to attack them or that you want to harm them. Their mood can be angry and irritable.

Hallucinations can accompany delusions where your parent might tell you they see imaginary people or hear people talking. Hallucinations and delusions are not lying intentionally. Your parent can’t help it and they believe what they are feeling, seeing, and thinking. 

Loss of control

As people age, they start to lose control of many parts of their life. Friends begin to die, their health worsens, and the loss of independence starts to take a toll. Perhaps they are afraid that they will have to stop driving, so they lie about accidents or driving ability.

Your parent may start to lie about their current health condition or inability to take care of their home. Your parent may want to avoid depending on you or outside help at all costs. Mobility issues and other medical conditions can be emotionally hard to cope with so your parent denies they have a problem. 

Hiding medical conditions

Minimizing or hiding medical conditions is common. The point to get worried is when you suspect there are safety issues and your parent is lying about it. Your parent may also resist going to the doctor, or if they do go, they lie to the doctor about how they are doing. Perhaps they are fearful of going to a nursing home or assisted living. 

Neediness

A needy and demanding aging parent can turn to lying to get your attention.  When they perceive that you aren’t responding to their needs, they will retaliate by creating false urgent situations. Your parent might call you incessantly with complaints or problems- real or made up.

How to Get Your Aging Parent to Stop Lying

Stopping your aging parent from lying may not be possible depending upon the cause. There is a significant difference between volitional lying and unconscious lying. If your parent is intentionally lying, you can strategize ways to reduce the amount of lying. 

1. Talk openly about your concerns

If your parent is lying to hide things from you, let them know how this affects you. Reassure your parent that they control their healthcare and other decisions and that you are there for support, not to dictate.

Ask your parent what their greatest concern and fear is, which could open up a conversation about the next steps in care and go through the caring for aging parents checklist. By planning ahead to honor their desires, they may be much less likely to lie to you.

2. Address the causes

If your parent has dementia, unfortunately,  there may be little you can do to stop lying. However, keeping your parent calm and distress-free might help. One way to do this is to consider adult daycare or a private caregiver who can keep your parent occupied and stimulated. When people with dementia are agitated, it is because they are usually in physical discomfort, are fearful, or bored. 

If your parent doesn’t have dementia, observe their life closely. Are they losing friends, becoming isolated, or having medical and mobility issues? Gently intervene by assisting them with a remedy for these problems. Visit more often so you can notice problems before they become unmanageable. 

3. Investigate any crucial lies

If your parent is lying so much you don’t know when to respond and when not to, you will want to prioritize. If the lying is about a safety issue, then investigate and get the real story. You can’t take a chance that they could be telling the truth.

If your aging parent continues to accuse every caregiver they have of stealing, you might give up on investigating each allegation since they are unlikely to be true.

What If Your Aging Parent Won’t Stop Lying After You Talk to Them?

At some point, you have to protect your mental health. After time repeated lying can become increasingly stressful and disruptive. Depending on the cause of the lying, we have some suggestions on how to cope.

4. Accept it

If, after repeated efforts to stop your parent from lying, and they continue, you may have to accept it. Acceptance can be challenging but reaching some level of compromise will help you manage your stress level.

5. Stay calm

Getting angry will not help the situation and could make it worse. When your aging parent continues to lie, take a deep breath and let the storm pass. You don’t have to respond to every lie verbally.  Sometimes staying silent is the best option.

6. Involve other family members

If you are the primary caregiver and start to feel burned out, ask other family members for help. Apprise them of the situation, though, so they don’t get caught up in the running down every lie. Let them know you need a break. Strategize together ways of responding so that each of you isn’t spending time reacting to the same lie. 

7. Set limits

If your parent is intentionally lying, set limits by letting them know you won’t respond to their calls except on scheduled days and times. If they have an emergency, they can call 911, not you. When you visit and your parent tells lies, tell them that you will need to cut your visit short if lying continues.

8. Talk to your parent’s doctor

One way to handle lies that your parent tells at doctor’s visits is to call ahead of time with accurate healthcare information. If the provider has an online messaging option and you have proxy access, leave a detailed message about any health concerns. For a parent with dementia, there might be some medications to help moderate the disease, but there is no cure.

9. Don’t take lying personally

If your parent lies, it isn’t your fault. Try not to take it personally and think that you have somehow created this situation. When the lying starts to take an emotional toll on you and your family, seek out counseling or someone else to talk to. 

10. Hire in-home caregivers

Consider hiring in-home caregivers to monitor your parent’s situation. Regardless of the cause of lying, caregivers can offer companionship, report on health concerns, and keep your parent safe. A good companion might be enough to take some of the pressure off of you.

11. Get help

The stress of dealing with an aging parent who lies can be damaging to your health. If you feel overwhelmed and anxious reach out to someone who can help you like a therapist or good friend. Talking about the situation will help. You don’t want to compromise your health while dealing with an aging parent who lies. 

What to Do If Your Aging Parent Starts Lying

When your aging parent starts lying, it can be exasperating and stressful.  Follow your instincts and do everything you can to moderate this problem. But, if things don’t change and the lying continues, accept the situation.

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