When’s the last time your demented loved one (I’m only referring to those medically diagnosed, otherwise I’m in that category) said something that was so rude and unacceptable you just about lost it? Yeah, that’s what I thought.
What’s up with that? It’s like being around a 4 year old who hasn’t yet learned there are things you say OUTLOUD and there are things you only THINK, followed immediately by a silent mia culpa. Like the time I was in McDonald’s eons ago, and a kid (who’d been blatantly staring at me as only kids can) said to his mom: “That lady has SPOTS!” Referring, of course, to my freckles. He attempted to use his inside voice, but failed miserably.
Now that was funny. His mom was horrified and embarrassed, but I thought it was hysterical. Unlike the time my mom, making a wretched face, stared at an obese person, then said something so inappropriately HORRID I wanted to crawl in a hole. She didn’t even try to use her inside voice, let me tell you.
Thank heavens this person had experience with dementia patients, so they understood. Still…everyone within earshot fell all over themselves apologizing and explaining that Alzheimer’s patients don’t have any filters.
Tell me about it. One of the first times I can remember this happening was early on in Mom’s diagnosis. We were at the grocery store, standing in line behind a young woman using coupons (oh! the horrors). Mom screamed “OH FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE…HURRY UP!” I know what you’re thinking…way to go, Mom. Because we’ve all wanted to do that.
There’ve been countless other times this has happened to me, or other family members, while with mom. Sometimes we can see it coming (that face of hers!) and can say “MOM…don’t say anything.” That works on occasion. But if whatever’s in her head comes out of her mouth anyway, we just apologize, mouth she has dementia and slink off.
Over the years, we’ve kept a running list of things that tend to trigger Mom’s mouth:
- those micro shorts girls wear now
- skinny people
- heavy people
- babies crying in restaurants
- boys with long hair
- loud talkers
- people who habitually hum tunes
- unusual hair-dos
- large breasts (especially in tight shirts)
- bad plastic surgery victims
- really tall people
- really short people
- women wearing too much makeup
- any combination of the above
I could go on, but you get the picture. Mind you, my mom (B.D. – before dementia) would never in a million years utter such things out loud, not even in private. It just wasn’t proper. The real mom is far too kind, considerate and caring for that. So imagine our surprise when she started spontaneously blurting out unimaginables.
A few months ago, at Starbucks in Aspen (she said, holding a teacup with pinky extended), I overhead a lady talking about her dad’s dementia. She was laughing with a friend about her dad’s newfound inappropriateness. Hey, she was in line behind me…it wasn’t like I was stalking or anything. Anywho, she said he now behaved terribly around women with large breasts. He would stare and stare and stare some more, then say very loudly: “YOU’RE BUXOM!” Her comment? You gotta laugh. Or as we like to say here at OBC, if you can’t laugh, you’re screwed. Oh, and she said she did that silent mouth thing: he has dementia….
Amen, sister. (And by the way, if this woman ever finds herself here reading her story: CALL ME. WRITE ME. WE NEED TO TALK!)
Face it. There’s not a dang thing we can do about this. It’s one of those dementia behaviors that falls under the beloved category of “can’t do sh*t about it” — so we just gotta let it go. It is what it is. The disease has taken away their ability to reason oh…probably best I don’t say this outloud.
Fretting about it, or any other dementia related issue for that matter, won’t do us any good. It won’t fix our loved one; it won’t fix us – it’ll just make us crazy. (This post from Richie Norton just popped in my inbox, seems appropriate — so here you go: “Why Worrying Won’t Work: 10 Encouraging Quotes”).
In an article about inappropriate dementia behaviors, Caring.com states that “it’s as if an internal filter on what’s polite or not is turned off.” True dat. (Sorry, my inner gangster slipped out). They refer to this symptom as “disinhibition.” Big word. Bad problem. And no, you don’t get to use it as an excuse for the next time you want to be rude in public.
The Alzheimer’s Reading Room, one of my go-to spots for information, also has a great article on this topic. “What to do when your loved one behaves inappropriately in public?” Have any other suggestions? Comment away! We’d love to hear them.
Bottom line? When disinhibition strikes (if you say it this way, you’ll sound very smart) – know it’s the disease talking, not your real loved one. It’s not a reflection on you or your family. It doesn’t mean your loved one is bad; it means they’re sick.
Apologize and quietly explain if necessary. Chuckle to yourself. Tell the story to friends and family (and OBC…please!). Pour yourself an adult beverage; eat a piece of chocolate (or both). Then move on.
There is life after dementia. Let’s get to it.