Apr 10, 2016

Alzheimer's Confabulation Memories Stories and Events That Never Happened

In psychological terms, Confabulation is a memory disturbance, defined as the production of fabricated, distorted or misinterpreted memories about oneself or the world, without the conscious intention to deceive.

Alzheimer's Confabulation | Alzheimer's Reading Room

Confabulation can also be defined as the spontaneous production of false memories. Memories of events which never occurred, or memories of actual events which are displaced in space or time. 

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These memories may be elaborate and detailed. Confabulations can be so "real" that only a close family member can confirm that the memory is in fact false.

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By Marilyn Woelke, MAG, LMSW
Alzheimer's Reading Room

One day Marilyn went to visit John who was in the nursing home. John has Lewy Body Dementia which is characterized by episodes of extreme confusion. Sometimes John is clear and alert; other times he loses his short term memory and may even hallucinate.

On this day, Marilyn asked him if his dog, Shorty, had been to see him. He replied that Shorty had died. He said his daughter took Shorty to the veterinarian because he was sick, but he died at the clinic. Marilyn knew that Shorty had been very healthy and happy a few days earlier, but she did not contradict or question John any further. She sympathized with him and then changed topics.

Later, Marilyn called John's daughter and found out that Shorty was just fine. She had taken him to his veterinarian for his yearly shots, and had explained this to her father saying, “so he won't get sick.”

People with dementia often confabulate – make up stories. They remember bits and pieces of a story, and then make up a fictional story that uses these true bits and pieces.

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They do NOT do this on purpose and they are NOT aware their story is not true. Their brains are working hard to remember and make the pieces fit together.

Don't make them feel worse by correcting them or contradicting what they say. Go along with their story and react to how they are feeling about their story.

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Family members of people with dementia who confabulate often become frustrated and may feel like their loved one is intentionally being dishonest and deceiving them.

It's important to understand that confabulation, although inaccurate, is not an intentional choice but rather an unintentional effect of dementia, whereas lying involves making a deliberate choice to misrepresent the truth.

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