From a lack of social awareness to choice vocabulary and inappropriate displays of love or desire, some people living with dementia can show a loss of inhibitions.
Many friends and relatives find it difficult to talk about the loss of inhibitions experienced by a loved one living with dementia. In fact, our research shows that just 23% of people feel comfortable talking about this symptom of the condition. Listen to real-life stories of families who are navigating these symptoms, with advice from Care UK’s dementia specialists.
When a person living with dementia loses their inhibitions, you might refer to it as ‘losing their filter’. This occurs when dementia causes damage in the frontal lobe of the brain, which manages our social filter, self-control, and decision making, among other things.
[The frontal lobe is] our social filter, it tells us what’s right and what’s wrong. When that goes, we say what we see, and we say what we feel. It’s not mum suddenly being rude, it’s the changes in her brain.Alison ButlerApproach to Care Lead at Care UK
The signs that your loved one is losing their inhibitions include using vocabulary they wouldn’t normally use, saying things that aren’t appropriate, undressing around others and changes in sexual behaviour.
The loss of inhibitions is more common in certain types of dementia, such as frontotemporal dementia, which affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. Read more about frontotemporal and other types of dementia.
When a loved one uses a rude word that’s out of character or acts inappropriately in public, it can come as a shock for family members and be distressing or embarrassing.
Try to remain calm, and quietly explain their dementia diagnosis to others if you can. The Alzheimer’s Society offers help-cards which explain a person’s diagnosis.
It’s important to remember that your loved one isn’t being rude on purpose, and they may not understand that what they have said or done is inappropriate. Instead, they may be trying to express a need for affection, discomfort or pain, or they may have mistaken who someone is or misinterpreted a situation.
Alison Butler, one of Care UK's Approach to Care Leads, suggests using your loved one’s brighter memories to help bring happiness and fulfilment to their day. “We know that that right hand side of the brain holds on to the rude words, the racial slurs, the sexual innuendos, and that will come out more regularly,” she says. “But we take great joy from the fact that it also holds poetry, prayer, and music. We really harness that in our care homes because even in the far reaches of dementia... music, prayer and poetry is still there, and we can use that to support them and give them joy and meaning in their day.”
We want to get the nation talking about dementia and some of the most difficult topics associated with the condition. Explore more articles in our online advice hub to take a closer look at the less-talked-about symptoms of dementia and how to navigate them. You can also discover more advice and support on our dementia help & advice page.