Is it normal for my grandfather, who has Alzheimer's and dementia, to be acting inappropriately towards other people?

6 answers | Last updated: Jun 01, 2018
Queenconger asked...

My grandfather has mild to moderate Alzheimer's and dementia. Is it normal for him to be acting inappropriately around other people and making sexual advances towards his caregiver? What can we do to make this stop? Any suggestions?

Expert Answers

Beth Spencer is a social worker in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with more than 25 years of experience with families who have a member with dementia. She is coauthor of Understanding Difficult Behaviors and Moving a Relative with Memory Loss: A Family Caregiver's Guide. Previously, she directed Silver Club, early-stage and adult day programs serving individuals with Alzheimer's disease and related illnesses.

One of the things that happens sometimes in people with dementia is that they lose some of their social inhibitions, due to some of the changes in their brains. This means that their ability to distinguish what is or is not socially appropriate is no longer working right. This can manifest itself in different ways: saying embarrassing things to people, picking up a plate and licking it, or making sexual advances, for example. 

Sometimes a person who is making sexual advances is simply lonely or in need of affection. Also, he may think his caregiver is someone else, such as a spouse or someone from his past. 

  • It's not possible to reteach appropriate behaviors, usually, but there are some other things that you might try:
  • Make sure that your grandfather’s caregiver does nothing to tempt him, that she dresses and behaves modestly.  Sometimes the person with Alzheimer’s is misinterpreting cues.
  • Help her come up with some firm responses to your grandfather, such as, 'Mr. Smith, do not say that to me please.' Teach her to walk away from him when he behaves this way. It's important not to reinforce the behavior with attention.
  • Is there a particular time or place it is happening? During dressing or bathing, for example? If so, help the caregiver think about how to do these tasks in a very matter of fact way.
  • Switching to a male caregiver may make this problem disappear. 
  • If all else fails, ask his doctor about medications that may dampen his sexual ardor. This should be a last resort, however. It does not always work, can have unwanted side effects, and physicians are often reluctant to try this.   


Community Answers

Dtippett answered...

I would suggest a behavioral neurologist evaluation, as they will know the best mrdications to use. I have used Tegretol with some success. Others have used Depakote and other medications. I recall someone reported on a novel medication to suppress sexual desire in demented patients. I think it was Cimetadine, but You should do a search and talk to a behavioral neurologist.

Good Luck

Ginga answered...

It can be very embarrassing for a spouse or family member but it is very common. My husband has been in a nursing home and now in an Alzheimer's unit for the last two and a half years. I like the Alzheimer's unit better because they know how to deal with behaviors better than a regular nursing home. They aren't shocked by their behavior and that helps me! It takes a special kind of nurse to work with dementia patients. I think they deserve more than they get for doing what they do.

Redbeard answered...

My father was prone to making sexually suggestive comments to caregivers at an Assisted Living facility after his Alzheimers had progressed - and that was definitely not his normal behavior. Generally I just told him that it was inappropriate to behave that way. One time I told him that his behavior embarrassed me - he apologized the following day.

Hopefully the staff is familiar with Alzheimers patients such that they have ways to address with such behaviors.

Incest survivor answered...

Phew this is difficult for me but I'm posting here because I am learning how to stand up for myself and have grandfather has been inappropriate towards me as long as I can remember, and unfortunately, I have no solid memories prior to age 12. But as an adult woman now, I want to speak up. Now my grandfather is in his 80s and people have used his age as an excuse for his behavior- there was always an excuse, and I was always wrong. Nobody listened to me as a little girl; it was too painful for my mother to face the reality of it all, so she just said I was "too sensitive" and there was something wrong with me. And I believed that for years. I went to visit my grandmother (I try to numb myself when he is around), and unfortunately had another horrible experience with him- he pulled me into the closet and asked if I was wearing panties. To this day I still cannot say anything when it happens, I just get very sick inside and leave. But I just need to say it out loud so somebody, anybody can hear....some men really are perverts and always were, and age may make it worse but it was always there! I don't want to upset anyone here, I need to say it for my own healing... I just wish someone would have stood up to him, the many times it happened throughout my life. To this day I struggle with calling it what it is. I am a natural caregiver and a nurse today, and I run into old men behaving this way and it is not okay. AND I still don't say anything because I turn into that scared little girl. They get away with it. I wish there were more people with the confidence to confront them on the spot. I pray for the ability to do this myself.

A fellow caregiver answered...

Thank you to the incest survivor for speaking up. Appalled that the first suggestion addresses what the caregiver is wearing. Are nurses and aides coming to work in bikinis and rubber catsuits these days?? Have I missed something? How typical to blame the victim. I have a question - How do we know that this behavior is new? How are you all sure that a brain abnormality wasn't there all along? Did it occur to anyone that this is just the first time these people have been unguarded and thus "caught in the act;" so to speak? Incest is the most underreported and prevalent type of sexual assault in the world; but we've been afraid to admit this to ourselves for decades. After many women came forward in the eighties a huge backlash pushed victims back into the closet to be replaced with the Catholic Church scandals and all sorts of stranger rapes; but these are not the most common scenario; and the moment we start to acknowledge that it is the people who are closest to us who are the most likely to take advantage of us we will finally be having a real "moment." I pray that now that the Hollywood thing has gotten so much attention we will move on to the root of the problem; which is that from a very young age we are rendered at risk for rape by being constantly and systematically violated by the people we should be able to trust. I'm not sure I buy that this is all the fault of alzheimer's and I hope that someone is looking into that.