Feb 1, 2016

Deteriorating Language Filters in People with Dementia

Do they blurt out what they really feel?

Looking back on my mother’s bizarre journey through Alzheimer’s, I remember when she made unprovoked, mean remarks about her friends and family.

She was uncharacteristically judgmental and disparaging at times.

Her closest girlfriend Ellen was “lazy,” her sister Deborah “wicked” or her nephew “a manipulative brat.”

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By Elaine C Pereira
Alzheimer's Reading Room

The mom I knew rarely criticized anyone. However, if she did make a less than flattering observation of someone, it was usually offset with positive remarks too or an explanation as to why they might be behaving badly.

It never crossed my mind that Mom was transparently revealing her private thoughts, suppressed over the years by social filters, until recently.

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I have been corresponding with a lovely woman Lisa whose mother has Alzheimer’s. We’ve shared many stories, but specifically what struck me was what Lisa wrote about her mom’s dissolving language filters:

Lisa’s Story

“When my mom lost her filter and ability to reason, she said out loud the unpleasant things that she may have been thinking all along.

After really being there for her every step of the way, it was painful to become aware of her true feelings… (Her friends) couldn't imagine what she was really like to us. She blamed my sister and me for having her tested and everything that went along with it.

She fought hard to try to convince everyone she didn't have Alzheimer's.

A Daughter's Story of Her Mother's Arduous and Humorous Journey through Dementia

When my mom first lost her (language) filter, I would cringe whenever we would be in public and I knew that if someone had a big behind or crazy outfit that she would voice her comments out loud. During that time she became fond of the "F" word, which she never used to say! She chose inappropriate times to share her new favorite word. Also, when I would drive her places, she would flip off other drivers sometimes if they did something she thought was bad!

Other people have shared that their parent did the same thing. Now, I won't take it personally if an elderly person gives me the bird!” ~Lisa

My Mother with Alzheimer’s

It was only during the very early phase of my mother’s dementia, while she was more functional than dysfunctional, that Mom “said what she thought” about people and even then it was inconsistent.

As her Alzheimer’s advanced, Mom’s behavior deteriorated quickly, becoming hostile, angry and agitated. She was critical of everyone and everything, but it was different from criticizing a specific person.

From I Will Never Forget: Re: stolen pants 
“They (stole my pants) for their kids.” she snarled. “I have nice things, and they want them.” Her voice took on a sinister tone, punctuated with a slight hiss. I remember being so stunned by Mom’s stern voice that I stepped back a bit.

Other Neurological Conditions Affect Language

Alzheimer’s is a real, progressive neurological disease affecting every part of the brain resulting in a pervasive decline. Language, memory, judgment and rational thinking are typically the first areas clearly affected by dementia. Mobility, reflexes, processing directions and self-care sequencing also deteriorate as Alzheimer’s advances.

As a daughter and Occupational Therapist, I observed a similar neurological decline in my father after his stroke. Although one-sided paralysis was evident post stroke, his judgment and language filters were also affected.

Pre-stroke, my dad was patient, respectful, soft spoken and courteous. Post-stroke he was impulsive, loud and self-centered. Blurting out whatever he thought or whatever he wanted without socially appropriate control “filters” became his norm.

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Eroding Filters

Lisa has raised the question that her mother’s waning language filters allowed her to say exactly what she was really thinking and feeling about others.

I doubt that my mother had private ugly thoughts about anyone or anything. That said I do remember a few instances of her declining language filters.

Mom was boisterous to the gate agent at the airport, that she should pay less for her flight because: “I’m small and weigh less than those big, obese people! The fuel the plane uses is based on weight you know!”

Neurologically Lisa is correct that her mother’s shattered language filters are allowing her to say whatever she thinks. But her mother probably hasn’t buried decades of negative remarks only to be free to blurt them out now due to dementia. Neurologically her mother’s entire thought processes are altered due to the brain damage caused by Alzheimer’s.

Tragically language isn’t the only skill that Lisa’ mom will loose due to brain cell devouring Alzheimer’s.

Custom Search - Elaine C Pereira

Elaine C. Pereira donates from each copy of I Will Never Forget to support Alzheimer’s research.

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