Why lying to demetia patients can be ethical
Three weeks into the quarter and Ive come to really believe that dementia is an awful disease, more horrible than any disease I have ever heard of. Its even worse when the patient wants for a family member or significant other that has passed away. As RN students we have ethics shoved down our throats, including telling the truth at all costs. “A truthful Nurse is one who succeeds”. I believe in telling the truth, really I do. But I do not think that telling a patient with dementia the brutal truth is helping us to “do no harm”. Here is the scene I witnessed last week.
Picture a pleasant elderly patient who asks you every hour or so about their spouse. Here is how the seasoned nurse handles it:
RN:”Hi Mrs.______, how are you this morning?”
Mrs.____: “Where is my husband? Where is _________?”
RN: “Im not sure ma’am, but let me look at that seeping decubitus ulcer on your hiney”
Mrs.____: “Im going to lunch with my husband today. He said he would come.”
RN: “Oh thats nice, now let me finish your wound check.”
Mrs.____: “When will he be here?:
RN: “I dont know. But lets get you dressed.”
An hour later, enter freshly born Nursing student:
RN student: “Hi Mrs.______, Im ______from the nursing school. Im going to perform a wound check on you today.”
Mrs._____: “Where is my husband?”
RN student: “Is he supposed to be here? Let me go look for him”
Rn student goes to chart and sees that the spouse is deceased
RN student: “Im sorry Mrs._____, but your husband passed away many years ago. He wont be coming here.”
Mrs._____: Crying inconsolably until she finally falls asleep without wound check.
The nursing student was so torn up. I heard her crying in the bathroom, and felt so bad that she got stuck in that ethical dilema.
But what would you have done?