Confabulation - When Your Mind Creates False Memories

A person with dementia may tell you a wild tale. They are not lying to you - they are confabulating. Confabulating may make long-term health care more difficult.

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Confabulation - When Your Mind Creates False Memories
2 Min Read September 10th, 2021

There are growing numbers of people who have Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia. In the middle and advanced stages, those with dementia may tell you or others stories they believe are true - however, the entire story is false. 

Sometimes the untruth is just a tiny detail; perhaps the entire story is completely fabricated. Don't think these people with dementia are lying. When someone's mind confabulatesthey believe everything they are saying. There is no intent to mislead. 

Not Lies - But Stories They Believe 

Author Julie Fleming says they are just sharing memories that never actually happened, at least not in how they're telling the story - Confabulation: When what appears to be a lie actually isn't. - The Purple Sherpa.

Most known cases of confabulation are symptomatic of brain damage or dementia—people who have suffered from an aneurysm or Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome can also experience this syndrome. 

When someone suffers from a brain disorder such as Alzheimer's, their brain can sometimes make fake memories from the pieces of information it already had. 

The website Alzheimer's Dementia Help explains that the brain forms memories with pieces of stored information, then assembles and stitches them together when they recall that memory. They don't remember the fact per se, but a collection of data assembled to form the thing you experienced. It is like building with Lego pieces.

The brain may substitute a piece of information it did not understand properly with a similar piece it already had, leading to fake memories that didn't actually happen.

Best to Go Along with the Story

Experts recommend not arguing with someone with dementia as they tell their story as it will rarely help. Most times, just go along with them in their story and join them in their reality. 

However, when explaining health problems, you must try to find the truth. Often, those with dementia will have other health problems that need to be addressed. If your loved one is confabulating, you will have to determine if their health-related stories are true - or just a story.

The long-term care services that someone with dementia who is confabulating can be more complicated, especially for untrained family caregivers. Professional in-home providers or facilities with staffing for dementia patients like this may be best for everyone involved.

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About the Author

An LTC News author focusing on long-term care and aging.

LTC News Contributor James Kelly

James Kelly

Contributor since August 21st, 2017

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Dementia care is expensive, even with in-home care. The costs continue to rise as demand is growing every year. Family members are unable to provide the quality care most people need due to aging and declining health. 

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