How to React When Someone With Dementia Is Inappropriate in Public

You can't believe it until you see it. "I'm hot," says the person with dementia, and proceeds to strip. Or sashays downstairs to a party clad only in underwear. Disinhibition -- loss of a sense of socially acceptable behavior -- can cause people with dementia to do or say things that they never would have done or even thought about doing in the past.

Best response to stripping: nonchalance. Shaming or acting shocked only changes the emotional vibe in the room, and not for the better.

When you can't completely ignore the behavior, however, try this:

  • Try to fix what might have led to the act of disinhibition. Maybe the person really is hot. Casually offer to turn on the a/c and fetch a cool cotton top.

  • For chronic undressers, try putting clothes on backward (buttons or zippers in the back), or look online for special clothing that's hard to remove. (Enter Alzheimer's clothing in your favorite search engine.)

  • Firmly explain boundaries: "No, you can't do that." Try to distract with another activity or by leaving the area to go to a new scene.

  • Explain to friends and family (or other onlookers) that it's the disease at work. No need to feel embarrassed. Use the incident as an occasion to educate them about how dementia affects more than memory.

Learn more about sexual behaviors and dementia.

Paula Spencer Scott

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and much of the Alzheimer's and caregiving content on Caring. See full bio