Relationship between Foul Language and Dementia

Sometimes, Foul Language Occurs in Dementia
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Having worked with hundreds of people with Alzheimer's and other kinds of dementia, it's clear to me that although many people follow a similar path as the disease progresses, not everyone exhibits the same symptoms. Cognitive changes such as memory loss are a hallmark of dementia, but challenging behaviors such as foul language can also develop.

Foul language may stream out of the person's mouth at times, even if they've never uttered a swear word before in their life.

Understandably, this can be hurtful and embarrassing to this person's family or friends. Why does this occur? And, what's the best way to react when your loved one is turning the air blue with his language?

Why Do Some People with Dementia Swear?

Dementia is a condition that affects the brain, and the brain controls language. That's why people with dementia sometimes have difficulty finding the right words, or as the disease progresses into the later stages, they may not be able to speak at all.

Another effect of dementia can be the loss of a filter on which words are spoken. Words that otherwise would be caught before they were spoken now may be uttered freely due to the loss of inhibitions and personality changes that sometimes develop as dementia progresses. A person who would never want to hurt others before developing dementia might call someone hurtful, offensive names now.

    Dementia also can trigger frustration about the many cognitive losses and the need for dependence on others for help, and  that frustration can all come flowing out- sometimes through swearing and name-calling.

    Coping with Swearing

    • Prevention is the Best Medicine.

      If there is a pattern as to what irritates and brings on the swearing- and sometimes there's not- avoid the circumstance that seems to trigger the behavior if possible. Consider these possible triggers and causes of behaviors:

      Physical Causes

      Environmental/External Causes

      Psychological/Cognitive Causes

    • Choose your Reaction.

      Let's assume there's not a clear cause or trigger for the swearing but that it appears random and unprovoked. If this is the case, while you may not be able to prevent it, you can choose not to react and become upset by it. It may be hard to hear a loved one speak like this, but remember that your he likely isn't choosing to act this way. Your calmness may, at times, facilitate a calmness in your loved one.

    • Draw the Line.

      Speak in a firm and calm tone of voice and tell your loved one that he may not speak like that or use those words. Sometimes this can work, especially if he is in the earlier stages of dementia. Other times it may be completely ineffective and the foul language may appear to almost be involuntary.

    • Roll with It.

      If you can, let it roll off your back. You'll preserve your energy and joy in life if you're able to just go with the flow rather than take it to heart.

    • Take a Break.

      If your loved one is in a place where he is safe and can be left alone, give yourself a ten-minute time out if you're feeling upset. During those ten minutes, remind yourself that he doesn't have the ability to control his language. It can be helpful to view it as the disease talking, rather than your loved one.

    • Redirect and Distract.

      Try turning on his favorite baseball team or religious program on the television or a music recording. Or, go for a walk with him.

    • Explain His Behavior to Others Around Him.

      The Alzheimer's Association has a great suggestion: carry business-size cards with you with the following words printed on them: "Thank you for your patience. My companion has Alzheimer's disease." This is a wonderful way to communicate with others around you who may be hearing your loved one use colorful language and not know what to say or how to respond. This simple explanation can allow you to quickly prevent people from taking offense.


      Alzheimer's Association. What Now? Caregiver's Quick Guide and Resource Manual.

      Alzheimer's Society. Unusual Behaviour. Accessed April 27, 2013.

      Alzheimer Society of B.C. Reactive Behaviours. Accessed April 27, 2013.

      Outlook South West. The Outlook South West Book for Dementia Carers. Accessed April 27, 2013.

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