Should You Tell a "Fiblet" to a Parent With Dementia?

Geriatric care managers offer advice on a sensitive topic.

From our earliest days we are taught never to lie, especially to our mother or father. However, a recent survey of aging experts reveals that telling a "fiblet" can actually be therapeutic when adult children are faced with telling painful truths to aging parents who have a cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer's disease.

The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers (NAPGCM) recently surveyed 285 professional geriatric care managers about the most common and difficult situations faced by families who are helping aging parents. Geriatric care managers help these families deal with some of the most sensitive and challenging issues.

More than 90 percent of the professional geriatric care managers surveyed said they have used or recommended the "fiblet" strategy to relieve stress and anxiety and protect the self-esteem of an elderly person. The situation cited most by experts in the survey as an appropriate and helpful use of a "fiblet" is when a senior is refusing clearly needed care or assistance at their home. For example, telling an aging parent with Alzheimer's that a paid caregiver is coming to their home for their spouse's benefit or for another concrete role can help the elder maintain pride and reduce anxiety.

The following were identified by care managers as situations when it can actually be therapeutic to tell a "fiblet" to an aging parent:

  • When they are refusing needed care and assistance at home. Telling them the caregiver is there for their spouse's benefit or for another concrete role can help them maintain pride and reduce anxiety (identified by 83 percent of those surveyed).
  • When they can no longer safely drive, yet insist on doing so. Telling them their car is in the shop getting repaired can reduce confrontations (68 percent).
  • When knowing the cost of in-home care prevents them from accepting the needed service (68 percent).
  • When it would only cause worry and stress to tell them about family problems they can't solve, e.g., unemployment, financial upheaval, divorce, drug abuse, incarceration (64 percent).

According to the National Institutes of Health, as many as 5 million of the 43 million Americans age 65 and older may have Alzheimer's disease, and another 1.8 million people have some other form of dementia. Americans feel increasingly challenged by the need to communicate difficult information to aging family members with dementia.

"A therapeutic 'fiblet' is just that—it is therapeutic because it calms and reassures, reduces anxiety and protects self-esteem," said NAPGCM President Emily Saltz. She added, "You would use a 'fiblet' only with parents who have a cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer's disease."

Geriatric Care Managers Share Their Experiences

As part of the survey, geriatric care managers were asked to provide comments about their own experiences in recommending the use of a "fiblet." A universal theme of the comments was that family members should navigate this clearly delicate area with help from a support group or from an experienced professional care manager. Care managers also stressed that one should only use a "fiblet" to protect and support a family member rather than for personal benefit or gain.

The following are from among more than 200 stories collected through the survey about geriatric care managers' experiences of using a "fiblet" in the course of their practices:

  • "I've used therapeutic 'fiblets' in many instances, but probably (most often) when the death of a loved one is beyond a person's capacity to understand. For example, if a person is looking for a deceased loved one, I tell them that I haven't seen that person today but when I do, I'll tell them that the person is looking for them. This serves to validate their experience and provide reassurance that someone cares."
  • "When an adult son was diagnosed with cancer, the decision was made to not inform his frail, memory-impaired nursing home-bound father of the diagnosis. At the same time, the son increased his visits to his father during treatment, as he had more free time available for visits. The son and father enjoyed more time together without stressing the father with a scary diagnosis."
  • "A client wanted to see their mother who had passed away many years ago. Instead of telling her that her mother had died and causing her to grieve again, we told her she was out and would return later. She accepted that and went on with her day."

Source: The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers (NAPGCM). NAPGCM was formed in 1985 to advance dignified care for older adults and their families. Geriatric care managers are professionals who have extensive training and experience working with older people, people with disabilities and families who need assistance with caregiving issues. For more information, visit www.caremanager.org.


Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in home care services.