Relationship Between Foul Language and Dementia

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

If your loved one has Alzheimer's or another form of dementia, you may be wondering how to cope with swearing and other bad or foul language; words that can be shocking when they come from the mouth of a family member or friend who has never spoken like that. Let's take a look at why some people with dementia swear, the possible triggers for foul language, and what you can do to cope.

Sometimes, Foul Language Occurs in Dementia

Steven Puetzer / Getty Images


Many people with Alzheimer's disease and other kinds of dementia follow a similar path as the disease progresses, yet not everyone exhibits the same symptoms. Cognitive changes such as memory loss are a hallmark of dementia, but challenging behaviors such as foul language can also develop.

Foul language may stream out of the person's mouth at times, even if they've never uttered a swear word before in their life. Understandably, this can be hurtful and embarrassing to this person's family or friends.


Dementia is a condition that affects the brain, and the brain controls language. That's why people with dementia sometimes have difficulty finding the right words, or as the disease progresses into the later stages, they may not be able to speak at all.

Another effect of dementia can be the loss of a filter of which words are spoken. Words that otherwise would be caught before they were spoken now may be uttered freely due to the loss of inhibitions and personality changes that sometimes develop as dementia progresses. A person who would never want to hurt others before developing dementia might call someone hurtful, offensive names now.

Dementia also can trigger frustration about the many cognitive losses and the need for dependence on others for help, and that frustration can all come flowing out—sometimes through swearing and name-calling.


From recognizing triggers to considering your reaction, there are many things that may help you cope with your loved one's bad language and outbursts. Not all of these will work with all people at all times, and you may find a particular approach—such as redirecting and distracting—works better than another.

Most important, however, is to recognize that you do have options, including taking a break if you need (if your loved one is safe and can be left alone.)

If there is a pattern as to what seems to bring on the swearing—but often there is not—avoiding that circumstance or "trigger" may sometimes be possible.

Common Behavioral Triggers in Dementia

  • A change in routine
  • Overstimulating surroundings
  • An unfamiliar space
  • A lack of personal space
  • A confrontation with a loved one or stranger
  • Feeling patronized

With these triggers, all of us may feel anxiety or frustration, but combined with the cognitive changes and loss of inhibition of dementia, the reaction may be magnified. It may help for you to consider the circumstances your loved one is facing which would leave you feeling apprehensive or frustrated.

Psychological (cognitive) triggers may also lead to foul language. Some of these potential triggers may include delusions and paranoia.


Even when you understand the reasons, foul language from a person with dementia can sometimes pierce like an arrow. It's painful to hear someone say something about you that isn't true. At the same time, we know that arguing with someone with Alzheimer's often backfires.

There are a number of strategies you can call upon when confronted with foul language or other challenging behaviors from someone with dementia. It is important to practice these so that they are at the ready when you need them.

Choose Your Reaction

Let's assume there's not a clear cause or trigger for the profanity but that it instead appears random and unprovoked. If this is the case, and while you may not be able to prevent it, you can choose not to react and become upset by it.

It may be hard to hear a loved one speak like this, but remember that your family member or friend isn't "choosing" to act this way. Your calmness may, at times, facilitate a calmness in your loved one.

If you find yourself the target of hurtful behavior, it is important to remind yourself that your loved one's reality is not your reality. Try not to take it too personally.

Draw the Line

You may try speaking in a firm and calm tone of voice and telling your loved one that he may not speak like that or use those words. Sometimes this can work, especially if he is in the earlier stages of dementia. Other times it may be completely ineffective and the foul language may appear to be almost involuntary.

Roll With It

If you can, let the words roll off your back. You'll preserve your energy and joy in life if you're able to just go with the flow rather than take it to heart. It may take some practice doing this before the words lose their impact on your peace of mind.

Redirect and Distract

Simply changing the conversation or scenery may be enough to stop your loved one with dementia from swearing. Try turning on his favorite baseball team or religious program on the television. Or play a music recording.

Physical activities like taking a walk or going to the beach can serve double-duty by distracting your loved one and providing an outlet for the surge of adrenaline that fuels angry outbursts.

Take a Break

If your loved one is in a place where he is safe and can be left alone, give yourself a 10-minute time out if you're feeling upset. During those 10 minutes, remind yourself that your loved one doesn't have the ability to control his language.

It sometimes helps to regard foul language as the disease talking, rather than your loved one. Separating behaviors from the person you love can help you avoid personalizing outbursts.

Dealing With Public Outbursts

It can be difficult enough if your loved one swears when you are alone or with family and friends who are familiar with his dementia. But being out in public can be downright embarrassing.

The Alzheimer's Association has a great suggestion: Carry business-size cards with you with the following words printed on them: "Thank you for your patience. My companion has Alzheimer's disease."

This is a wonderful way to communicate with others around you who may be hearing your loved one use colorful language and not know what to say or how to respond. This simple explanation can allow you to quickly prevent people from taking offense.

A Word From Verywell

Swearing isn't uncommon among people with dementia, even those who never uttered a 4-letter word in their life. The personality changes and loss of inhibitions as the condition progresses may give rise to many challenging behaviors, even for those who were most outspoken against profanity before dementia hit.

To better cope with the challenges, take the time to identify and avoid common triggers while taking steps to avoid personalizing outbursts, whether at home or in public.

Let compassion direct your actions. It's not about being a martyr; it's about framing foul language as a symptom of dementia so that you can retain your objectivity and still appreciate the person you've always loved.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Alzheimers Association. Memory Loss & Confusion.

  2. Ringman, J., Kwon, E., Flores, D., Rotko, C., Mendez, M., and P. Lu. The Use of Profanity During Letter Fluency Tasks in Frontotemporal Dementia and Alzheimer Disease. Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology. 2010. 23(3):159-64. doi:10.1097/WNN.0b013e3181e11392

  3. Alzheimers Society. Preventing and Managing Aggressive Behavior.

Additional Reading

By Esther Heerema, MSW
Esther Heerema, MSW, shares practical tips gained from working with hundreds of people whose lives are touched by Alzheimer's disease and other kinds of dementia.