Can Alzheimer's Cause Swearing?

4 answers | Last updated: Mar 28, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

Is it Alzheimer's that's making my mom curse? She's 80 and never swore a day in her life until recently, and now she curses fairly often, even in front of my kids! How should I respond?

Expert Answers

Geri R. Hall is an advanced practice nurse who works in the department of neurology at the University of Iowa College of Medicine and at the Banner Alzheimer Institute in Phoenix, Arizona. She's also a speaker and author who since 1996 has facilitated the online support group for the Washington University, St. Louis, Alzheimer's Disease Research Center's Alzheimer List.

It is the disease that's causing the change. We all know these nasty words, but our parents (when we're young) and people around us (as we get older) encourage us to control ourselves and not say them in front of others. Several things are happening to your mom. First and foremost, the dementia is robbing her of the ability to inhibit her own behavior, so once something comes to mind she says or acts on it.

Also, she may be more uninhibited around your children or in social situations because noise, change, and disorder, circumstances that often occur when you're around kids or out in public, overwhelm her impaired brain. Some medications -- such as Xanax or Ativan -- can make this tendency worse. You might want to ask your mother's doctor about this if she is taking such medications.

However, you can do a few things. First, understand that your mom can't control these outbursts no matter how much you try to stop her. In addition, make sure she's very rested before occasions that she might find overwhelming, such as being around your children. Try to limit these encounters so they don't go on for hours. The maximum time for any activity should be about 90 minutes. It's also helpful to counsel your children about Grandma's behavior. Explain that she has an illness and can't control some of the things she says or does because of it.

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Community Answers

A fellow caregiver answered...

This answer was helpful because my husband was always a perfect gentleman who never cursed. Now he curses to me about most people, including family members. Also he has uncontrollable anger at certain family members. Could this also be attributed to the disease?

Frena answered...

yes, of course it's the disease. it's a symptom called "loss of impulse control" and, according to what i read, it's more often associated with fronto-temporal dementia. (not that names matter much in this, i guess) in dementia, it's useful to understand what behaviors might mean. so, for example, a man with dementia who is angry is actually very fearful. dementia makes people very sensitive to feelings from others. maybe those family members themselves have doubt or fear around him. he'd pick that up and react emotionally to it. peaceful environment, acceptance, emotionally nurturing environment can all help the terror calm down. also, as dementia progresses, this anger stage tends to pass. it's kind of a guy way of saying "What's happening to me?" It's okay to talk about stuff too if he accepts it. as in "Honey, it's not your fault you can't remember. it's this darn disease." Hearing that it's not his fault can help. try out a few approaches and see what helps him most. and trying to find things he can do, more or less okay, so he can feel useful and manly may help a lot too. sitting about doing nothing doesn't help to calm a frightened person. either way, know that this too will pass.

Maggiemay32 answered...

We have noticed with my mother-in-law that medications that she has tried make her anxious and mean and she says things that she normally would never say. We have tried and discontinued Aricept, Exelon patch and even Avalox. When stopped...she returns to her normal sweet happy self for 99.9% of the time. We believe in quality of life over a possibility of a few extra months of better brain function.

We have also noticed that upcoming events which she feels might put her in a position where her Alzheimer's may be more obvious and she knows will probably tax her ability to cover up make her a bit anxious and agitated. Gentle reassurance and a calm demeanor and even silence help get her through these moments.