“Elderly Lies”?! Disseminating Research & Learning Along.

I recently gave a talk about deception at the “55 Up Club” in Lucan, in the vicinity of London, Ontario.


Thank you to the Club for inviting me and to the Middlesex County Lucan Library Branch organizers, and specially, Anita Looby for the lovely reception and your thank-you card. The experience was certainly memorable.

Just before my talk, I was chatting with one of the members of the Club over coffee and told her that I was there to learn from them. She didn’t believe me and said that the idea was for me to lecture and for them to learn from me. I hope the learning was mutual. I lectured about varieties of lies such as serious and everyday, or face-to-face and screen-based, and what the clues to recognizing them might be.

VRubin-with-Audience-LucanTalkWhat started off my learning process is a direct question from the audience. At some point, a lady in the audience asked me about “elderly lies”: “Why don’t you tell us more about what’s relevant to the senior citizens’ lies?” Frankly, I never thought of lying as being age-discriminant. There is not much research on that outside of clinical and health care research, at that I’m aware of at this point. What are these “elderly lies”? What makes them distinct, if anything? Perhaps, the context? Perhaps, the vulnerability of those who succumb to mental illnesses in later stages of their lives? I could certainly see that there are some circumstances in which either elders are lying so distinctly, that it becomes a phenomenon of its own, such as often the case with dementia lying or scams directed specifically at elderly.

During the talk in response to the question I thought of a recent episode of This American Life “In Defense of Ignorance” in which “
Lulu Wang tells the story of an elaborate attempt to keep someone ignorant — her grandmother — and how her family pulled it off”.  The elderly grandmother (who lived in China) was not told of her terminal illness. One important fact was concealed from her: she had cancer and her doctor predicted she only had 6 months to live. This morally debatable act of withholding the diagnosis (at least in the North American context of the 21st century) is apparently customary in China, and some other parts of the world (Russia, for instance). A former nurse in the audience told me it was customary in Canada in mid-1950ies as well. The Chinese grandmother lived another 3 years after the diagnosis. Ok, that’s a example of inter-culturally fascinating “elderly context” but would the behavior of the relatives be any different, if it were a 25-year-old cancer patient? From the works of Susan Blum we know that in China it is important to consider consequences of such information regardless of age, gender and so forth.

The more I think back to my experience with the “55 Up Club”, the more I’m grateful to the seniors’ group at Lucan for asking such a simple yet fundamental question. It started off my learning process. What is an elderly lie, anyway? Is there such a phenomenon? Is lying age-dependent?



One Reply to ““Elderly Lies”?! Disseminating Research & Learning Along.”

  1. Victoria,
    I am researching about “seniors and lying” on the internet and your article came up. I’d like to ask for your thoughts or opinions regarding a whopping lie my husband told me about 2 weeks ago but some context first.
    He is a 36 year veteran of the Police force, retired.
    We’ve been married 28 years. Second marriage for both of us.
    We have a great son who is 27 years old who has met the love of his life.
    We love her too and we are friends with her parents; and very close to them. We’re friends.
    When our son was a teenager, his dad worked swing shift. During this time our son battled depression and it was a most difficult time but we are blessed and so thankful that with counseling and some good self-direction on his part, he is doing very well. Well, as the main parent during this time, I was certainly in the trenches, and I have to say my husband was no help at all. We had arguments about this.
    Two weeks ago our son shared with his dad that he was going to propose to, Sayra, his girlfriend, in August. This is great news!
    Our son asked my husband to tell be because there were too many people gathering around and the pending proposal is a secret for Sayra as of yet. He has a plan.
    The next day, my husband and I were sitting on the couch visiting away as we often do, and discussing what a nice couple Joe and Sayra are and at length we talked about what the future may hold, etc. My husband made no mention of the pending engagement. He purposefully and “structurally” keep this all to himself.’
    Two days later Sayra’s mom called me and asked if I’d heard the “August” news? When she told me I was sure that Joe had not told his dad because I just knew if he had my husband would have told me. Then she read a text from Joe where he said “yes, my parents know. I told my dad and asked him to tell my mom.”
    My husband has no good reason why he lied to me so elaborately. Of course I was beyond hurt. I still am. If you asked me a month ago if my husband would have purposely hurt me, I’d “probably” say no. He does hurt me pretty often because, well let’s just say he isn’t really very good with words. He’s also been in a full blown mid-life crisis for about 8 years, or so. Yes, it’s getting old. Not just us, but putting up with his stuff. I’ve always tried to be extremely supportive because his job really did required a safe haven for him to come home to.

    So there you have it. I’m hurt, confused why he’d do this, guarded, and pretty much shut down. Everybody got the good news, but me. For some reason I’m the mom who gets to be there when things are tough but my husband doesn’t seem to think I deserve to get the good news. We don’t fight but you could hear a pin drop in our house right now.
    Can you give me some insight?

Leave a Reply to Theresa Giannetto Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.