Can Alzheimer's Cause Swearing?

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 Answer

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.