Q: My normally loving but now slightly demented father is suddenly using the worst possible profanity. How should I handle it?
A: When I was taking care of my elderly parents (both with Alzheimer's not properly diagnosed for over a year), no one warned me that inhibitions gradually fade and that Alzheimer's may cause some undesirable behavior change.
At first it actually didn't bother me that much, as I was used to my father's lifelong use of swear words to punctuate most of his sentences! In fact when I was a kid, I made a ton of money at Lent when he'd swear he'd stop swearing--and then pay me a dime for each infraction. And oh, if I only had a nickel for every time Mom shook her finger scolding him with, "Honey, now stop that swearing!"
What I was not used to however was my father's use of the "F" word, as he had never used that one before--my mother would have slapped him silly. But now when he'd get upset over the simplest thing, I was suddenly the target and: "nothing but a f-ing whore"… "I had never done a f-ing thing for him"… and… oh yeah… "all I wanted was his f-ing money"!
I know how you are feeling, as it is so painful to have our once-adoring fathers say such horrible things. As I cried and pleaded with my father to stop each time, my now demented mother shook her furious finger from her hospital bed in the family room with, "Honey, now, you just stop that foul language, and I mean it. Right now!"
It took some time to understand that my father's negative behavior patterns were becoming intermittently distorted with the onset of dementia, because he'd be so normal and nice in-between these episodes. Like most people coping with dementia, I just chalked it all up to stress, illness and old age.
Finally, here's what helped me: Eventually I developed what I now call the "Jacqueline Marcell Emotional Shield," which I want to empower you with. Basically, it's consciously striving to become desensitized to bad words so they don't mean anything except that there's frustration to try to eliminate or reduce.
By speaking calmly with non-threatening body language, while validating that you understand how upset your father is, you can usually de-escalate the situation. Don't get caught up with trying to make sense out of angry outbursts, illogical or irrational statements, argue the facts, or debate infuriating accusations. As soon as you can eliminate your need for logic and reason, it will be much easier to cope.
I finally got so good at detaching that no matter what despicable things my father said to me, they'd just bounce right off. I'd say, "I'm sorry you're so upset--what can I do to make you feel better?" And when the answer was, "You can get the hell out of my GD house you f-ing bitch, that's what you can do!" it became a bit more challenging to come up with creative solutions!
Sometimes I could get my father off his swearing tirades by using "Distraction." Redirecting him to something he was interested in, like a tornado on the Weather Channel. I also used "Reminiscence," bringing up happy times from the old days while capitalizing on his long-term memory. I even resorted to a little "Bribery," offering his favorite vanilla ice cream for dessert if he'd calm down.
And if none of that worked, I just backed off, disappeared, and waited for it to blow over. That's when the mystery of intermittent dementia became clear, because oftentimes my father had no recollection whatsoever of these episodes, later saying emphatically, "I never said any such a thing!"
It was so "funny" because suddenly Mom's memory would be perfect and she'd repeat whatever he'd said verbatim! She'd scowl at him and shake her furious finger saying, "Well, you most certainly did too, honey. You said she was just a #@&*#$!"
And when all else fails, you just have to laugh!