Is increased bigotry a warning sign of dementia/Alzheimer's?

Thread title says it all. I had thought that when, for example, an older person who has always been kind and generous suddenly starts talking about “those people” or starts using the N-word, it can be a sign of impending Alzheimer’s or other senile dementia.

Google is not verifying this for me. Is it true?

An unexplained change in an older person’s personality that is uncharacteristic of them can be a sign of dementia.

One explanation is not that the beliefs are new, but that there is a loss of the ability to inhibit the expression of those beliefs. This can strikingly occur in frontal lobe strokes and in frontotemporal dementia, but, to my limited understanding, can occur less dramatically in other forms of dementia as well.

Yes, that was essentially the basis of Sophia’s continual gag in the Golden Girls. She would say whatever came to mind without any restraint because she had a stroke in the portion of her brain that would normal inhibit her from doing so.

My maternal grandmother exhibited exactly such a change. As has been sugg3ested, she was probably judgmental and bigoted all along, but as the disease progressed, she lost all inhibition. She also had bad hearing, which led to her loudly saying inappropriate things and insisting that she would not be shushed because “those people can’t hear me” (since it didn’t seem so loud to her).

We eventually suffered through a long list of insults to strangers and hideously judgmental comments.

During a walk in the neighborhood: “Look at that tree. I don’t like that tree. They should do something about that tree. They should cut down that tree. Someone should MAKE them cut down that tree.”

During a church service: “Sweeney [my grandfather], did you wash under your armpits this morning? I can smell something. Oh, they CAN NOT hear me!”

When passing different-looking people in public: “Look at all these…mmm-hmm. Do they allow [our kind of people] in here?”

In a restaurant: “Look at how fat that woman is! Disgusting. OH, she CAN NOT hear me!”

A related question is: does increased bigotry just come naturally with age?

It seems that for many (or most) older people they become increasingly entrenched in a limited world-view and start to dislike or fear anything that is different. The biases seem to be unrelated to general competence. It just seems that they retreat to the comfortable and familiar. Why they are so vocal about it could be due to relative isolation as much as anything else.

I was a dementia care nurse for many many years. (I have an “Ask the…” thread on here, search it out!) Yes I found a decrease in inhibitions, ie saying bigoted things, acting on immediate impulse, increased swearing and vulgarities, a quickness to violence a common occurence with people who were developing dementia.

We would have wives crying that Herbie had never sworn in his life, or been sexually inappropriate, and now he was swearing, saying racist, sexist vulgar things. Some of them didn’t like the medications for instance, Ebixa (memantine) because while it sort of increased peoples capabilities for a while (or slowed the decline) the results could be unpredicatable. Someone who had stopped being verbal, for example might drop F-bombs and use nasty terms for racial minorities rather than be polite old dad, as they had been.
Picks Disease, and any frontal lobe dementia, as noted will show this more severely.
My own grandfather had a multi infarct dementia (from strokes) and the day before he died (he had wandered off walked half way across town, and been brought home by the police) he baracaded himself in his room wanting to keep the “f**king pigs out!” It was the first, last and only time my mother, in her late 50s had heard my grandfather swear. (And he had worked for the city, knew a lot of police officers, socialized with them, and so forth)

I sort of think of it as a teenaged brain in an elderly body, especially in frontal lobe related dementia. Teenagers are well known for their capacity for impulsiveness, vulgarity, lack of understanding long term (and sometimes short term) cause and effect, inability to delay gratification, etc. In teens, it’s because their frontal lobes, the seat of this sort of cognition, isn’t developed yet. In seniors with dementia, it’s because their frontal lobes have been damaged.

And in all ages there are drunk people. Same effects, and again, it’s because the frontal lobes are impaired by alcohol.

It totally depends on the patient and family, but some of them are soothed by this idea - not that Grandpa’s secretly been an asshole all his life, but that he’s much like a drunk person or teenager, through no fault of his own. It gives them a life experience of their own to compare with what he might be feeling inside his own head. Ever say something shocking you didn’t really mean when you were drunk and then feel really bad about it, but be unable to own up to it or make amends because your drunk brain was getting in your way? Yeah, that’s what Grandpa’s dealing with all the time right now.

And, of course, some old people are just assholes. There’s nothing sanctifying about getting old.

Yes, I’d heard of this effect on a news story not too long ago. I originally found on the funny news aggregator site called Fark. (Please don’t browser there unless you know what you’re doing.)

Some African-American caregiver was prevented from suing for discrimination because it was the facilities policy to accept the fact that, as dementia sets in and advances, people lapse back into their Jim Crow-era behavior. Basically she was dinged for not giving care to a woman who had fallen, because that woman insisted on not being touched by Black people, and there was a delay in getting the help that was needed. So bad news all around.

Now, first off I don’t have a citation. And this is simply the institutions policy, so I didn’t say I agreed with it, that’s a great debate territory. But, if you can find a news story with the facts I gave you, you may find in the news story, the name of the institution, and they may have a professional that they site to give an opinion on the subject.

Obviously, everyone experiences their declining years differently. I don’t think a sudden onset of racism or bigotry is a warning sign in and of itself. More along the lines of: having diagnosed the condition, you can now expect – old attitudes to resurface, including … bigotry, racism, sexism, yadda yadda

My WAG is that, as you get older, you DO become more isolated. It’s just an isolating experience. As I get older my hearing is going, my vision isn’t what it used to be and I am much less physically able to do things. I can see that in 20 years or so my perception of the world will have changed dramatically. Once I confidently strode into new, perhaps even dangerous, places, sure in the knowledge that I could handle any situation. Now I try to avoid driving at night; heck I don’t even have a reason to go out at night. In 20 years I will only be able to imagine what people do at night and I’m sure I won’t imagine them getting together for bible study. If I vocalize my fears they will probably come out as ignorant and bigoted because that is all I will have.

Not in my case, but then you have to take into consideration that I spent part of my childhood in Germany where that wasn’t a problem for us. Mixed marriages are pretty common there, and I think most of the bigotry is on US military bases in Germany.

My Dad brought us to the US in 1960 (I was 11) and although he (from Georgia) was bigoted, it never transferred over to me. It did to my brother, who was only an infant at that time, and has no memory of Germany.


I had one patient who used to say to me all the time. “You’re not pregnant, you’re just fat.”
I used to thank her profusely and tell her I’d been worried.

I learned to roll with the insults, the language, and stuff. You have to. It was hard telling the family that though. It was also hard for the non-Caucasian staff members, getting called ethnic slurs. Often not even the "right"ethnic slurs, one staff said “Does he hate me because he THINKS I’m Japansese or because he KNOWs I’m Native?”